Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Bible: So Misrepresented, It's a Sin (Part Three)

Some other writers have responded to Kurt Eichenwald’s Dec. 23, 2014 Newsweek article about the Bible.  I haven't covered every detail, so those who have additional questions may want to seek out the following blog-entries:  

(James White also made a 90-minute video that included a response to Eichenwald, but due to its mistakes and meanderings I do not recommend it.)

And now back to the list of things wrong with Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek article.

(8)  Eichenwald claimed that when the King James Version was made, “A Church of England committee relied primarily on Latin manuscripts translated from Greek.”  Certainly the KJV’s translators consulted Latin, Syriac, French, Italian, and other translations.  However, the KJV’s Preface (“The Translators to the Reader”) addressed this very question about the translators’ base-text:  “If you aske what they had before them, truely it was the Hebrew text of the Olde Testament, the Greeke of the New.”  The Greek New Testament had been in print since 1516, and had been reprinted in numerous revisions by scholars such as Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza (the owner of Codex Bezae, which Eichenwald described as an “early version”).  Eichenwald’s claim that the KJV’s translators “relied primarily” on Latin manuscripts is simply false 

(9)  Eichenwald grossly oversimplified the reasons why English translations differ, claiming that this is due to “guesses of the modern translators” about the meaning of the Greek text, as if koine Greek is horribly obscure.  I am willing to grant that on this particular point, Eichenwald is only mostly wrong.  There are some obscure words in the New Testament regarding which the meaning is not entirely secure, such as the exact species of tree that Zaccheaus climbed.  But this sort of thing is not nearly the perplexing linguistic puzzle that Eichenwald depicts it to be.  The differences in translation-methods – whether the goal is a technical precision or contemporary clarity – have far more impact than opaque terms in the text. 

(10)  When Eichenwald attempted to illustrate his claim that “religious convictions determined translation choices” in modern translation, he blatantly misrepresented the New American Standard Bible.  He stated that when the New American Standard Bible (and the NIV and the Living Bible) translated the word προσκυνέω – which is routinely translated as “worship” in the KJV – the translators of the New American Standard Bible “dropped the word worship when it referenced anyone other than God or Jesus.”  Thus, Eichenwald contended, “Each time προσκυνέω appeared in the Greek manuscript regarding Jesus, in these newer Bibles he is worshipped, but when applied to someone else, the exact same word is translated as “bow” or something similar.”

More than a dozen examples that contradict Eichenwald’s claim could be presented; in the interest of brevity let’s just look at Acts 10:25 from the New American Standard Bible:
“When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him.” (NASB)

Voila.  Eichenwald’s claim that the NASB “dropped the word worship when it referenced anyone other than God or Jesus” is false

(11)  In his discussion of church history, claimed that Constantine “changed the course of Christian history, ultimately influencing which books made it into the New Testament.”  In real life, Constantine had practically no influence on the canon of the New Testament.  Eichenwald brought up this point as if the New Testament canon was debated at the Council of Nicea, but that is not what happened at Nicea.  The fourth-century historian/bishop Eusebius of Caesarea reported that on a separate occasion, Constantine instructed him to produce 50 Bibles for the churches in Constantinople, but there is no basis for any suggestion that Constantine was ever involved in any decisions about which books should be included. 

(12)  (This one's just about a typing-mistake.)  Eichenwald wrote that at the Council of Nicea, “The primary disputes centered on whether Jesus was God—the followers of a priest named Arius said no, that God created Jesus.  But the Bishop of Alexander said yes, that Jesus had existed throughout all eternity.”  This should not have made it past Newsweek’s editors.  The vocal opponent of Arius was Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, not the “Bishop of Alexander.”
(13)  Eichenwald gave his readers the impression that at the Council of Nicea in 325, Constantine arranged for the Sabbath-day to be shifted from Saturday to Sunday.  This part of his article reads like something based on bad Seventh-Day Adventism propaganda.  Justin Martyr, writing c. 160, stated forthrightly in his First Apology, chapter 67:

“On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read,” and, “Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.”

This is easily corroborated by quotations from other patristic writers who lived before Constantine, such as Irenaeus and Tertullian.  Eichenwald’s claim that “Many theologians and Christian historians” believe that the Sabbath-day was moved at the Council of Nicea might aptly describe theologians and historians who are as misinformed as Eichenwald is, but it does not reflect what actually happened; the decree was concerned with standardizing the liturgical calendar, not with introducing a new day of worship.    

(14)  Eichenwald gave readers the impression that December 25 was identified as Christmas-day at Nicea because this was when “the birth of the sun god was celebrated.”  Two things should be noted in response.  First, Romans had so many pagan holidays that you couldn’t throw a dart at a calendar without having more than a 50% chance of hitting some deity’s special celebratory day.  Second, Christians in the western part of the Roman Empire had been observing December 25 as Jesus’ birthday since at least the time of Hippolytus of Rome, in the very early 200’s; Hippolytus mentioned its observance in his commentary on Daniel.  And Hippolytus, a rather strict and austere theologian, had no motive to associate Jesus’ birthday with celebrations held by his pagan persecutors.

(15)  Eichenwald claimed that after the Council of Nicea had developed the Nicene Creed, “Those who refused to sign the statement were banished. Others were slaughtered.”  Could he, perhaps, name a few of the bishops who attended the council who were afterwards slaughtered for refusing to adhere to the Nicene Creed?  I don’t know of a single one. 

(16)  Eichenwald described the decrees of the First Council of Constantinople (in 381) by saying that the bishops there agreed that “Jesus wasn’t two, he was now three—Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”  This is nonsense.   The First Council of Constantinople expressed that the church believes in the Holy Spirit as “the holy, the lordly and life-giving one, proceeding forth from the Father, co-worshipped and co-glorified with Father and Son, the one who spoke through the prophets.”  It did not decree that Jesus is the Holy Spirit or that Jesus is the Father; the idea was that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons sharing one divine and uncreated essence. 

(17)  Eichenwald continued to misrepresent church history when he claimed that “By the fifth century, the political and theological councils voted on which of the many Gospels in circulation were to make up the New Testament.”  In real life, none of the church councils that had an impact on the New Testament canon were debating whether or not the Gnostic texts should be regarded as canonical.  The four-Gospel canon was already established in the 100’s, as shown in the writings of Irenaeus.  In the early 300’s, the Gnostic pseudo-gospels were not in the mix, and never had been, except to the Gnostics.

(18)  Eichenwald bizarrely misinterpreted New Testament passages about the value of the family unit.  He reads Matthew 19:29 and concludes that “To Jesus, family was an impediment to reaching God.”  This is sad caricature-drawing.  Jesus was not anti-family, as many other verses (Matthew 10:2-9, for example) prove.  Matthew 19:29 is about priorities, particularly in times of persecution when Christians face choices between loyalty to Christ, or to non-Christian family members, or to wealth.  Saying that this makes Jesus “anti-family” is just absurd. 

(19)  Eichenwald presented his interpretation of Mark 13:30 as if “all of it is fact” instead of being his own interpretation.  Citing Jesus’ statement, “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be done,” Eichenwald asserted that this meant that "the people alive in his [Jesus’] time would see the end of the world.”  But this overlooks the nature of the questions that Jesus was answering in his apocalyptic discourse in Mark 13.  Another interpretation is that Jesus’ remarks about the end of the world in Mark 24-27 are parenthetical, and that when he says that “this generation” will see the foretold events, He is referring to events described earlier in the chapter, and to the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred in the First Revolt in the late 60’s – within a generation of the time of Jesus.       

(20)  Eichenwald misrepresented the Greek term ἀρσενοκοῖται as if its meaning is obscure, stating, “The King James Version translated that as “them that defile themselves with mankind.”  Perhaps that means men who engage in sex with other men, perhaps not.”  Granting that the KJV rendered the term euphemistically, it does not require a degree in philology to discern what ἀρσενοκοῖται means:  those who participate in male-to-male coitus.  Just reduce the word to its Greek roots and this is obvious.  Eichenwald claims that translators “manipulated sentences to reinforce their convictions,” but if anyone is manipulating words in an attempt to blur the meaning of the text in this case, it’s Kurt Eichenwald.

(21)  Eichenwald asserted that “Every sin is equal in its significance to God.”  Granting that all sin separates sinners from God, Eichenwald’s claim does not square up with statements in the New Testament such as John 19:11, where Jesus tells Pilate, “The one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin,” and First John 5:16-17, where a differentiation is made between sins that lead to death, and sins that do not.  All sins should be avoided, but not all sins have equal consequences, and not all sinners have the same level of culpability.

(22)  Eichenwald misrepresented the contents of First Timothy 2:9-10, stating, “It says women must dress modestly, can’t embroider their hair, can’t wear pearls or gold and have to stay silent.”  Wrong.  These verses are preceded by verse 8, where Paul specifically prefaces his statement by saying “I desire” that these things would be done.  Paul’s expression of his own preferences are not the equivalent of a “Thus saith the Lord.”  He similarly told the Corinthians (in First Corinthians 7:7) that he desired for everyone to be celibate, like him, but he did not make that a command.  Paul’s statements about hair and pearls should be interpreted through the usual interpretive lens that takes first-century Roman culture into account.  When Eichenwald ignores context in an attempt to score rhetorical points, he is guilty of the same sort of oversimplification that he accuses others of committing.

(23)  Eichenwald’s attempted application of First Timothy 2:12, as if it means that “Every female politician who insists the New Testament is the inerrant word of God needs to resign immediately or admit that she is a hypocrite,” is ludicrous.  In this passage, Paul is laying part of the groundwork for the list of qualifications for elders and deacons, which follow in chapter three.  A modicum of consideration of the context shows that Paul is focused on goings-on in the churches, not in the political arena.  If Eisenwald’s myopic misapplication is the best he is capable of, then it’s Eichenwald, not Michele Bachmann, who “should shut up and sit down.”    

(24)  Eichenwald’s misapplication of Romans 13:1-8 was erroneous to a humorous degree.  In that passage, Paul calls on Christians to be law-abiding Roman citizens, to pay their taxes, and to be respectful toward those who hold government offices.  From those instructions, Eichenwald drew the conclusion that Christians are forbidden from criticizing the government; “There are eight verses condemning those who criticize the government,” he wrote.  But Paul was not writing about criticizing the government; he was writing about disobeying the government.  He did not want church-members to give anyone a basis to brand the Christian churches as politically driven revolution-clubs.

That is a long way from saying that Christians should not criticize anything that is done by anyone holding a political office.”  Does Eichenwald serious think that anyone trained in Judaism, as Paul was, and who was aware of how the Old Testament prophets criticized various kings and government officials, would say that it would be sinful to criticize the actions of a king?  Acts 16:37 reports that Paul himself protested against the way government-officials treated him.  Would Eichenwald conclude that Paul, by protesting unjust treatment from the government, was sinning?  Surely not, I hope.  Eichenwald’s abuse of Romans 13:1-8 is preposterous rhetoric which I hope he will someday recollect with a sense of shame.         

(25)  Although Eichenwald offered some valid criticisms of “prayer shows,” I noticed that he named Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal.  (He did not mention Barack Obama – who proclaimed May 1, 2014 as a National Day of Prayer and stated, “I invite the citizens of our nation to give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I join all people of faith in asking for God’s continued guidance, mercy, and protection.”)  But how can he express this criticism of the actions of government officer-holders after stating that Romans 13:1-8 condemns those who criticize the government?  Apparently even Eichenwald does not take Eichenwald’s interpretation of Romans 13:1-8 seriously, even within the same article.

(26)  Eichenwald seemed to imagine that Jesus’ command in Matthew 7:1, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” means that Christians should not warn and plead with people not to break God’s commandments.  God alone can look into a person’s heart, and God is the one Lawgiver and Judge.  That does not mean that Christians should keep quiet about what God has said that He wants people to do, and what God has said He wants people to avoid doing.  It is not wrong for Christians to warn others who are stumbling, wandering, or lost.  Just the opposite:  a church that is not calling people to repent and surrender to God is guilty of profound apathy and distraction, as if the church’s top priority ought to be keeping people well-fed on the outside while they are starving and eating dirt on the inside.  Jesus said that the second-greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself.  When Christians warn adulterers, sodomites, liars, and sinners of every sort that they need to repent, and that they are lost, and that they need to receive a new spiritual nature from God, they are doing what they wish someone would lovingly do for them if they were lost in sin.

These were not the only problematic aspects of Eichenwald’s “Newsweek” article but they are sufficient, I believe, to warrant a request for retractions and apologies.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Bible: So Mispresented, It's a Sin (Part Two)

Continuing the corrections of Kurt Eichenwald's Newsweek article, "The Bible:  So Misinterpreted, It's a Sin" -- 

(4)  Eichenwald wrote, "An early version of Luke 3:16 in the New Testament said, “John answered, saying to all of them.…” The problem was that no one had asked John anything, so a fifth century scribe fixed that by changing the words to “John, knowing what they were thinking, said.…” Today, most modern English Bibles have returned to the correct, yet confusing, “John answered.” Others, such as the New Life Version Bible, use other words that paper over the inconsistency."

Kurt Eichenwald is one confused dude who has made multiple mistakes:
(A) The variant in Luke
3:16 that consists of the insertion "Knowing what they were thinking" is an anomaly. It's not in the Byzantine Text -- the text-type represented by over 85% of the manuscripts. Nor is it in the Alexandrian Text -- the text-type that forms the primary basis for most modern versions of the New Testament. It is a variant in Codex Bezae, a manuscript famous (or, rather, infamous) for its interpolations and quirks. 
(B) Most likely it was not the fifth-century copyist of Codex Bezae, but an earlier copyist, of some ancestor-manuscript, who invented this reading.
(C) It is virtually libelous to say that "most modern English Bibles have returned to the correct" reading, because anyone can consult the English Bibles from the 1500s as well as the King James Bible and turn to Luke 3:16 and see that they never adopted Codex Bezae's variant in the first place. So when Eichenwald says that English Bibles "returned" to the correct reading, it's like saying that there was time when English Bibles' text of Luke 3:16 was based on Codex Bezae, which is simply false.  A responsible publication would retract, and apologize for, this demonstrably untrue statement.
(D) I consulted the "New Life Version" online, and it accurately conveys the meaning of the Greek text of Luke 3:16. Nothing is "papered over."  The gracious conclusion to draw is that Eichenwald simply does not know the Greek text well enough to make an informed judgment on this point. (NLV, Luke 3:16a: "But John said to all of them," -- Greek text: APEKRINATO LEGWN PASIN O IWANNHS. Likewise the KJV: "John answered, saying unto them all,".)

(5)  Kurt Eichenwald's comments about John 7:53-8:11 look like they were extracted from a book by Bart Ehrman, and Eichenwald even repeats Ehrman's ridiculous statement that scribes in the Middle Ages made up this story.  Ehrman told a radio-interviewer in 2006 that "in the Middle Ages," a scribe added the story to the Gospel of John, but Eichenwald stretches the lie even further in Newsweek, claiming, "S͋cribes made it up sometime in the Middle Ages." 

Meanwhile, in a world apparently inaccessible to Ehrman and Eichenwald, Ambrose of Milan (c. 370/380) utilized the story of the adulteress repeatedly; Augustine (early 400s) discussed it at length, and Jerome (late 300s) stated that he had found the story of the adulteress in many manuscripts, both Greek and Latin. Newsweek's dissemination of such laughably out-of-focus descriptions of the evidence, as if John
7:53-8:11 did not come along until the Middle Ages, is deplorable and irresponsible. Granting that the passage is not in 267 Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of John, it is present in 1,476. The case is not nearly as one-sided as Eichenwald pretends. 

Eichenwald claims that the passage "does not appear in any of the three other Gospels," but this is true of most of the events in the Gospel of John! Does he not know this? Or is he just grasping at anything that will give the appearance of supporting his claim?

Likewise he claimed that the passage is not "in any of the early Greek versions of John," but while this may be true of manuscripts from
Egypt, it is certainly not true of manuscripts used by Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose, Pacian, Augustine, and others. Plus, the passage about the adulterous woman is found in Codex Bezae, the quirky manuscript that Eichenward himself referred to as an "early version."

(6)  Kurt Eichenwald's cherry-picking of evidence regarding Mark 16:9-20 is shamefully misleading. He stated, "The earliest versions of Mark stop at 16:8." That is partly true: the two earliest copies of Mark 16, both produced in the 300s, end Mark's text at the end of 16:8. But this is hardly the whole truth.

In one of those two copies - Codex Vaticanus - the copyist reserved blank space after verse 8, instead of beginning the Gospel of Luke in the following column. 

In the other copy - Sinaiticus - all of the text from Mark 14:54 to Luke 1:56 is on a cancel-sheet, that is, replacement-pages, and the copyist made extra effort to avoid leaving a blank column between Mark 16:8 and Luke 1:1, and drew a heavy decorative frame after 16:8. Both manuscripts, in different ways, indicate their copyists' awareness of material beyond verse 8.

Out of over 1,600 Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark, those two are the only Greek manuscripts of Mark in which the text clearly ends at verse 8, followed by the closing-title of the book. Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Washingtoniensis, Codex Bezae, Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus -- the passage is in them all, representing different copying-centers in different locales. Kurt Eichenwald's statement that Mark 16:9-20 is not "in early copies of the original Greek writings," is not entirely true. The text ends at 16:8 in two early Greek copies, echoing an early Alexandrian form of the text. But those two manuscripts are two among a bunch.

None of these manuscripts are the earliest evidence regarding Mark
16:19. It is for some reason a secret which Newsweek-readers must be kept from that Irenaeus of Lyons, writing around 180, specifically quoted Mark 16:19 from his copy of the Gospel of Mark -- a manuscript which must have been over a century older that the manuscripts produced in the 300s.  (Irenaeus' quotation is in Against Heresies Book 3.)  And around 170, a man named Tatian, in the course of composing the Diatessaron -- a blended account of all four Gospels into one narrative -- included Mark 16:9-20 in the account.  And, around the year 160, Justin Martyr made a strong allusion to Mark 16:20, using its verbiage in his First Apology, chapter 45. Even the pagan author Hierocles, c. 305, probably recycling material written by his mentor Porphyry, used Mark 16:17-18 in an anti-Christian jibe.

Does Kurt Eichenwald think that the utilizations of Mark 16:9-20 by writers in the 100s-early 300s, earlier than the earliest manuscripts of Mark 16, are not worth mentioning? Or did he decide that Newsweek-readers should not be told about them because this might interfere with the thesis of his article? Or is he simply clueless when it comes to New Testament patristics?

(7)  Kurt Eichenwald wrote that First John 5:7, Luke 22:20, and Luke 24:51 "first appeared in manuscripts used by the translators who created the King James Bible, but are not in copies from hundreds of years earlier."

As far as First John 5:7 (the "Comma Johanneum") is concerned, that is certainly true. Regarding Luke
22:20 and Luke 24:51, however, Kurt Eichenwald's statement in Newsweek is . . . let's say, horsefeathers.

Luke 22:20 is attested by the early manuscripts Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Washingtoniensis, and many more; the verse was included in the Vulgate by Jerome in 383 -- which is, I believe even Mr. Eichenwald will concede, hundreds of years before the King James Version was produced. Luke
22:20 is also included in Papyrus 75. Kurt Eichenwald apparently has stumbled upon and swallowed a pet theory of Ehrman, who favors Codex Bezae's quirky liturgical adjustment that resulted in the non-inclusion of this verse -- but that is no excuse for mangling the presentation of evidence. The only difference between Kurt Eichenwald and someone lying about the evidence pertaining to Luke 22:20 is that a liar knows what he's doing.

Luke 24:51, likewise, is included in Papyrus 75 and in Codex Vaticanus and a plethora of other manuscripts. Papyrus 75 is typically assigned a production-date by paleographers in the early 200s -- which is earlier than Codex Bezae (fifth or sixth century) and much earlier than the manuscripts used by the translators of the King James Bible. Newsweek is spreading distortions and nonsense by publishing claims that give an impression to the contrary.

I call on Newsweek's editors to retract the errors in this story/article/mess.

The Bible: So Misrepresented, It's a Sin (Part One)

Recently (Dec. 23, 2014) Newsweek magazine published a cover-story, "The Bible:  So Misinterpreted, It's a Sin," in which author Kurt Eichenwald made numerous misrepresentations of some text-critical subjects.  This blog-entry and the next few entries will address some of the pernicious falsehoods in the Newsweek story, point by point.

(1)  Kurt Eichenwald says nobody has read the Bible -- "At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times."

Eh? Has he never set eyes on a Hebrew Bible, or on a Greek New Testament?? And can he be so isolated from the enterprise of Bible translation that he foolishly imagines that Bible translators only consult earlier translations -- as "translations of translations" -- and not the compilations of the Hebrew and Greek texts??? Absurd!

(2)  Kurt Eichenwald says that in koine Greek, written in scriptio continua, "a sentence like weshouldgoeatmom could be interpreted as “We should go eat, Mom,” or “We should go eat Mom.” 

Eh? That illustration is way out of focus, because it does not mention that in Greek, word-endings make a world of difference -- so much so that the illustration is misleading. It's much, much easier to tell where Greek words separate from each other, when written withing spaces between the words, than it is when writing English without spaces between words. There are some passages where more than one word-division is sensible and feasible, but those are anomalies. Eichenwald's impression to the contrary is misleading.

(3)  Eichenwald wrote: "In the past 100 years or so, tens of thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament have been discovered, dating back centuries." 

Eh? Was he referring to relatively unimportant medieval Vulgate copies and Armenian copies?  Tens of thousands? Really? We certainly don't have "tens of thousands" of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament books. Can anyone tell from the article what sort of manuscripts the writer is writing about, as in, what languages these "tens of thousands" of manuscripts are in???

To be continued . . . 

Monday, October 13, 2014

How Early Is the Basic Lection-Cycle?

            For several significant textual variants -- Mark 16:9-20, John 7:53-8:11, and Luke 22:43-44, for example -- solutions have been proposed which involve the idea that the unusual treatment of these passages in early lection-cycles contributed to their loss in part of the transmission-stream.  Some other variants, such as the non-inclusion of John 9:38-39a in some early witnesses -- have also been accounted for as having been elicited by special factors involving the presentation of the passage in a lector's copy.  (A lector was the person entrusted with the task of reading Scripture in early Christian worship-services.)  The usual, almost predictable, answer to such theories has been along the lines that the lectionary did not develop early enough to have such a strong impact on the text of the Gospels.

            However, one would not need a fully developed annual cycle of lections for every day of the year in order to account for a few significant losses.  The annual observances of major feast-days -- Easter-week, Pentecost, Christmas, Ascension-Day, and memorials of the apostles and a few martyrs -- are all that would be necessary.  There is nothing implausible about the idea that regular annual observance of major feast-days was already customary in the mid-100s.

            In 1900, a researcher named Charles Taylor published some finds from the Cairo Genizah (a fascinating subject for its own sake, but that's not our main subject today).  The manuscripts that he published included fragments of a Greek lectionary, containing text from Matthew 10 (and part of the lection's title) and John 20.  The production-date of this manuscript was assigned to the 500s, making it one of the earliest lectionaries (or, fragments from a lectionary, at least) known to exist.

Taylor's lectionary -- lectionary 1276 -- is a palimpsest; that is, it consists of recycled pages.  Someone who needed parchment obtained pages from a Greek lectionary, washed off the lettering, and reused the parchment to write a Hebrew composition.  (Whoever this person was, he also obtained pages from a copy of Acts and First Peter -- other pages of the Hebrew composition are palimpsests with text from those books underneath the Hebrew lettering; those pages constitute the uncial manuscript 093, which Taylor also published.)  Centuries later, part of the Greek lettering, which was not entirely washed away, remains legible.  

This picture of the fragments of Lectionary 1276 is based on the plates in Charles Taylor's book, Cairo Genizah Palimpsests.  The presentation of these fragments begins on page 89 (digital page-number 104).


Friday, September 12, 2014

Byzantine Priority Theory

Question:  Four English translations of the New Testament, three of which are mainly projects of  individual translators, have been published in the past ten years.  Each one is more far more accurate and less idiosyncratic than Eugene Peterson's paraphrase, The Message.  What is the base-text of these four new English translations?

Answer:  The Byzantine Text.  That is, the text which, in general, is supported by a large majority of the existing Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.    

In case you're wondering what those four translations are, and where you can find them, here's a list:

The World English Bible -

The Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament, by Gary Zeolla - .

The English Majority Text Version, by Paul Esposito - .

The Eastern Orthodox New Testament - .  

The Byzantine Text on which the first three of these translations of the New Testament are based is similar to the base-text of the King James Version and New King James Version, with a difference:  whenever there is a difference in the manuscripts, and one variant is supported by a strong majority of Greek manuscripts, that is the variant in the base-text of these three versions.

The fourth version, the Eastern Orthodox New Testament, is also translated from a base-text that agrees with the majority of Greek manuscripts far more often than the base-texts of the ESV, NIV, and NASB (etc.) do.  Its base-text consists of the consensus-reading of a group of manuscripts that represents the text approved in the Eastern Orthodox Church.  It has about 1,550 differences from the 2005 Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform; most of them do not have a translatable effect. (The differences are specially concentrated in the book of Revelation.)

A cornucopia of resources about the Byzantine Text, including links to PDFs of the 2005 Robinson-Pierpont compilation of the Byzantine Text and Robinson's essay, The Case for Byzantine Priority, is ripe for plundering at .

I do not subscribe to Byzantine Priority.  And I do not think that the Byzantine Text, taken as a whole, is congruent to the original text.  (Q:  Does it convey the same message, book by book, as the original text?  A:  Yes, and it does so better than the Alexandrian Text.)  To me, a reading that is supported by a large majority of twigs on a minority of branches of the transmissional tree does not have the same level of weight as a reading that is supported by a minority of twigs on a majority of branches.  And some non-Byzantine readings (including some non-Byzantine readings that are longer than their Byzantine rival variants) have strong internal characteristics that commend them as original, compared to the Byzantine variant.  Nevertheless, if you're looking for an English translation that is designed with the goal of reflecting the meaning of the text of the majority of Greek manuscripts, these four, collectively -- overlooking, for the moment, whatever quirks any one of them might contain -- should suffice.

Here's a diagram of what the transmission of the text of the Gospels would look like if the Byzantine Priority Theory were true.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Diagram: The Development of Text-types for the Gospels

Here's a diagram to illustrate the spread of the text of the Gospels into text-types.  This is a simplification -- there's really no place where a complex mixed text like that of P45 could be placed -- but as a general picture I hope you find it helpful.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mark 9:29 - Conclusion: "and fasting" is Original

From this review of the evidence, it seems clear that the text of Mark 9:29 with και νηστεια was read throughout the early church, even in Egypt, as far as can be confirmed by the external evidence.  It also seems clear that a theological impetus can readily be provided for the excision of these two words:  orthodox copyists with a high Christology would be taken aback by the implication, real or imagined, that Jesus needed to fast in order to successfully exorcise a particular kind of demon.  It would not be hard to foresee that an unbelieving critic of the faith, coming into possession of a copy of Mark with και νηστεια in 9:29, would raise the question, “Why did Jesus, the Son of God, if he is superior to angels, need to fast in order to get some fallen angels to do as he told them?”  A bold copyist with an apologetic agenda could convince himself that the words must be a corruption, and on that basis decline to perpetuate them.

A slightly more complex apologetic rationale for scribal excision also may have existed:  in parts of the early church represented by the tradition expressed in Apostolic Constitutions, regular fasts were to be observed on Wednesdays and Fridays, and fasting was to be avoided on Mondays, Thursdays, and Sundays.  The fasts on Wednesdays and Fridays were said to commemorate Christ’s betrayal and His sufferings.  But this may have provoked a question:  what regular fasts did Jesus observe, before His betrayal and sufferings?  Without the words και νηστεια in Mark 9:29, there is no evidence in Mark that Jesus regularly fasted during His ministry.  The question would thus be rendered superfluous.

A copyist driven by a similar apologetic motive could remove the words in order to lower the risk that an unbelieving critic might pose a question such as the following:  Jesus affirmed in Matthew 11:19 that he came eating and drinking.  How, therefore, did he cast out a demon which can only be exorcised with prayer and fasting?

A much simpler explanation is also at hand:  και νηστεια could be lost via a parableptic error elicited by homoeoteleuton.  That is, an early copyist who was not familiar with the text accidentally skipped from the και in Mark 9:29 before νηστεια to the και at the beginning of Mark 9:30, thus carelessly losing the two words in between.  The possibility of this kind of mistake might not naturally occur to readers of printed texts in which Mark 9:30 begins with κακειθεν, but when reading Codex W (from Egypt), in which Mark 9:30 begins with the non-contracted και εκειθεν, the possibility must be acknowledged. 

The very same kind of careless mistake has caused the loss of και ανεσθη at the end of Mark 9:27 in Codex W, in Old Latin k (which, besides being the only Latin witness for the non-inclusion of και νηστεια in 9:29, is probably the most unreliable extant manuscript of the Gospel of Mark in any language), and in the Peshitta; according to the NA-27 apparatus this is also the likely reading of P45, which suggests that at this point Codex W and P45 echo an ancestor.

In a contest between the early church’s Christology, and the early church’s customs regarding fasting, the former had a much heavier impact on scribal habits.  Copyists were far more likely to remove a short phrase which (they reasoned) risked giving the impression that Jesus was unable to exorcise certain demons without fasting previously, than they were to insert a short phrase which would risk giving readers exactly that impression. 

If και νηστεια was not accidentally lost (or, if it was, and subsequent copyists in Egypt faced exemplars with rival readings in Mark 9:29), the perceived scandal at the thought that the King of angels needed to fast in order to exorcise a certain kind of demon, was enough to convince an early copyist in Egypt that the responsible thing to do was to protect readers from misinterpreting the text by removing the problematic words (or, if the words had already been accidentally lost, and a copyist faced rival readings in his exemplars, this line of reasoning would be a major basis for the adoption of the shorter reading). 

I would also draw attention to the reading of Codex B in the subsequent verse, 9:30.  Instead of παρεπορευοντο, B* reads επορευοντο.  (So does D.)  B*’s reading was adopted by Hort and Tregelles, but their judgment has been rejected by subsequent textual critics.  Figuring that παρεπορευοντο is indeed the original text in 9:30, the reading in Codex B may be considered evidence that the text of B in this passage has undergone editing, which may have included theologically motivated editing.    


Mark 9:29 and Fasting - More External Evidence

          Some additional information about early attitudes regarding fasting can be found in an annotation, consisting of an extract from a composition known as the Apocalypse of Elijah, which follows the end of the book of Acts in Sahidic MS Or. 7954, which is probably contemporary with the copyists who produced Codex Sinaiticus.  E. A. Wallis Budge drew attention to this material in 1912 (on page lv of Coptic Biblical Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt).  The manuscript was produced in 300-350.  While the possibility exists that this note was added later – even considerably later – Budge regarded this possibility as one which the evidence does not compel, and Herbert Thompson (in 1913 in The New Biblical Papyrus) concurred that the evidence is inconclusive about this.   
          Following Thompson’s translation of the note (on pages 10-11 of The New Biblical Papyrus), its pertinent portion reads as follows:

“God pitied us by sending his Son into the world (κόσμος) that he may save us from the bondage (αἰχ.).  He did not [send an?] angel (ἄγγελος) to come to us (?) nor archangel (?) (ἀρχάγγελος), but He was changed . . . . . (several lines lost) . . . . . the earth on account of these deceivers (πλάνος) who will multiply at the end of the seasons, for they will set up teachings which are not from God, who will reject (ἀθετειν) the law (νόμος) of God, they whose god is their belly, who say that there is no fast (νηστεία), nor hath God appointed it, who make themselves strangers to the covenant (διαθήκη) of God, who deprive themselves of the glorious promises, who are not established at any time in the strong faith (πίστις).  Do not let them deceive (πλαναν) you [in] these things.  Remember that the Lord brought (?) fasting (v.) ever since he created the heavens . . . . . . men on account of the sufferings (πάθος) and the . . . . . on your account . . . . . .”   

          This witness shows that individuals known to the author of the Apocalypse of Elijah regarded fasting as a human invention.  On one hand, one could propose that no one, had his Gospels-text contained Jesus’ commendation of fasting, would invent such a view.  On the other hand, if regular fasting (i.e., twice-weekly fasting) is in view, then one could propose that those holding such a position may have been strongly motivated to slightly adjust their Gospels-text to either strengthen their position, or to weaken that of their opponents. 
          We now turn to Codex Sinaiticus.  The main copyist wrote Mark 9:29 without και νηστεια, but the words were subsequently added, using a kai-compendium.  To those who have seen Vaticanus’ reading, the non-inclusion of και νηστεια by the initial copyist of Aleph is not surprising, considering that Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, despite their very many disagreements, are both regarded as flagship manuscripts of the Alexandrian Text of the Gospels (outside of John 1:1-7:38, where Sinaiticus’ copyist used a secondary exemplar, the text of which had “Western” affinities).        
          Vaticanus and Sinaiticus share the shorter reading of Mark 9:29, and the non-inclusion of the parallel-verse Matthew 17:21.  While they are almost the only witnesses for the non-inclusion of και νηστεια in Mark 9:29, they are members of a wider alliance in Matthew 17:  Willker lists Θ 0281 788 33 579 892* 1604 and 2680 as manuscripts which likewise do not include Mt. 17:21; they are joined by two Old Latin copies (e and ff1), the Sahidic version, mae-2, the Old Georgian, and the Sinaitic Syriac, the Curetonian Syriac, and the Palestinian Syriac, as well as some Bohairic copies. 
          Matthew 17:21 adds some chaos to our equation, so to speak.  Non-specific patristic utilizations of this sentence might be based on Matthew, or on Mark.  Furthermore, as Willker deduced, if the inclusion of Mt. 17:21 is secondary, “then it must be a harmonization to the Markan Byz text” – that is, if the inclusion of Mt. 17:21 is not original, then the ancestries of all the witnesses that include Mt. 17:21 have been influenced by a text of Mark 9:29 that included και νηστεια.  The significance of this point becomes clear when one realizes that the inclusion of Mt. 17:21 is attested by such early and diverse witnesses as Origen (in his Commentary on Matthew, Book 13, chapter 7), Chrysostom (Homily 57 on Matthew), most Old Latin copies, the Peshitta, D W 700, etc.     
          It is remarkable that of the two most important Middle Egyptian witnesses to the text of Matthew, mae-1 (Codex Scheide, from the 400’s) includes Mt. 17:21, although mae-2 (Schøyen MS 2650, assigned to the early 300’s) does not include it.       
           Before moving on from Codex Sinaiticus, let’s consult a passage in this manuscript from outside the Gospels:  the apocryphal book of Tobit, chapter 12, verse 8.  Where we would expect a reference to prayer and fasting, we find instead a reference to “prayer with truth” (or, with sincerity).  Vaticanus and Sinaiticus do not agree in this passage; in Codex B, as in the Vulgate, the verse includes a reference to fasting.
          In Sinaiticus, the reference to fasting has been removed, and a reference to praying with sincerity has taken its place.  Should we conclude that the text of Tobit 12:8, in ancestors of B and the Vulgate, was corrupted by copyists who wished to insert a reference to fasting?  Or is the correct deduction, instead, that Codex Sinaiticus displays here an attempt to obscure, via textual tampering, the significance of fasting?  Sinaiticus has the longer form of the book of Tobit (“GII”), and this form, which features various Hebraisms, and which is supported by the Cave IV fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls (for details see the introductory essay to a recent translation of Tobit by Alexander A. Di Lella), is generally thought to pre-date the shorter form (GI); however, that does not necessarily resolve this particular question; in Di Lella’s translation of both forms of Tobit, the reference to fasting in 12:8 is retained in the text.                   

(Two tangential points should be noted regarding the text of Tobit.  First, if Di Lella is correct that the shorter form is a condensation of the longer form of Tobit’s text, this is an interesting piece of evidence against the often-abused text-critical axiom that the shorter reading is to be preferred.  Second, the use of one form of Tobit by a copyist of B, and a different form of Tobit by a copyist of א, indicates that B and א were not both among the 50 codices prepared by Eusebius for Constantine, contrary to Skeat’s proposal.) 
          Epiphanius of Salamis, who composed his heresy-targeting Panarion in the 370’s, mentioned some heretics who rejected fasting, and others who endorsed extreme fasting.  In Part 26, Against the Gnostics, or Borborites, in 5:8, Epiphanius described a Gnostic position regarding fasting:  “They curse anyone who fasts, and say, ‘Fasting is wrong; fasting belongs to this archon who made the world.  We must take nourishment to make our bodies strong, and able to render their fruit in its season.’” 
          Epiphanius also mentioned a contemporary person named Aerius who “forbids fasting on Wednesday and Friday, and in Lent and Paschal time.  He preaches renunciation but eats all sorts of meat and delicacies without hesitation.  But he says that if one of his followers should wish to fast, this should not be on set days but when he wants to, “for you are not under the Law.”  (See page 412 of Frank Williams’ and Karl Holl’s translation of Epiphanius’ works, © 2003 Brill.  Selections from the book, including thequotation about the Gnostics, can be accessed online.)
          In Part 33, Against the Ptolemeans, 5:13-14, Epiphanius affirmed that the Savior desires “that we fast, but it is his will that we keep not the bodily fast but the spiritual, which includes abstinence from all evil.  We do observe outward fasting however, since this can be of some use to the soul as well when done with reason – not in mimicry of someone or by custom, or for the same of a day, as though a day were set aside for it.”  This view collides with the one advocated in Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8, where regular daily fasts were commanded to be observed twice a week.  
          The text known as the Gospel of Judas, which was mentioned by Irenaeus (unless there was more than one heretical text called the Gospel of Judas), in its 40th section, features an episode in which Jesus is depicting interpreting a vision; the temple, in the vision, is identified by Jesus as a focus of false worship, which is advocated by several men, including one who represents “those who abstain.”  This may be a reference to fasting, but it is more likely a reference to celibacy. 
          An initial reading of Sayings 6 and 104 in the text known as the Gospel of Thomas suggests that the author was opposed to fasting.  However, Saying 6 opposes prayer and alms-giving as much as it opposes fasting; its real target, apparently, is non-enlightenment.  Saying 104 is interesting:  when the disciples say to Jesus, “Come and let us pray today and let us fast,” Jesus says, “Which then is the sin that I have committed, or in what have I been vanquished?  But when the bridegroom comes out of the bridal chamber, then let them fast and let them pray.”  (Based on the rendering on page 53 of The Gospel According to Thomas, A. Guillaumont et al,  © E. J. Brill 1959.)  The thing to see here is that the author seems to presume that during Jesus’ ministry, not only did Jesus’ disciples not fast during His ministry (in sync with Mark 2:19-20 – though regular, scheduled fasts may be in view), but that Jesus Himself did not fast. 
          On one hand, one could argue that the author of Gospel of Thomas would not have composed such a saying if his text of the Gospels included a statement by Jesus that implied that He fasted during His ministry.  On the other hand, one could argue that if fasting was assumed to be an expression of remorse or repentance following an act of sin, this could provoke a copyist to remove such a statement from the Gospels-text, lest readers get the mistaken impression that Jesus fasted as an expression of regret about sinning.     
          Among orthodox believers, fasting was not considered automatically commendable.  (As we have seen, some fasts, on certain days, were specifically prohibited.)  John Chrysostom, in his Fifth Homily on Second Thessalonians (the Greek text of which is in Migne, P.G. 62:464), made an interesting statement about fasting as he commented on Second Thessalonians 3:11-12: 

“Alms are given only to those who are not able to support themselves by the work of their own hands, or who teach, and are wholly occupied in the business of teaching.  ‘For you shall not muzzle the ox,’ he says, ‘when he treads out the grain.  And the laborer is worthy of his hire.’  So that neither is he idle, but receives the reward of work, and great work too.  But to pray and fast, being idle, is not the work of the hands.  (“to de eucesqai kai nhsteiein argounta, ouk estin ergon ceirwn.)  For the work that he is here speaking of is the work of the hands.”

          Chrysostom did not oppose fasting, but he clearly regarded it as non-work, not as labor.                      

          Although it has already been stated that all Greek copies of Mark 9:29 – somewhat more than 1,600 manuscripts – include και νηστεια, except for B, Aleph, and 274 (a damaged Egyptian manuscript from the 400’s), it does not seem inappropriate to view one of them, Codex W (032), especially because it has an Egyptian provenance and is a relatively early manuscript.  So here is a picture of part of a page from Codex W, showing that its text of Mark 9:29 includes και νηστεια. 
          Codex Bezae (D, 05) also merits special consideration, because it generally represents a transmission-line that is not echoed by most manuscripts.  It includes και νηστεια.  

Mark 9:29, Prayer and Fasting, and Some Early External Evidence

Having reviewed some of the early church's customs regarding fasting, we now turn to examine some early external evidence about Mark 9:29 specifically, and about fasting in general.

The minuscule 2427 (alias “Ancient Mark”), one of the four Greek witnesses that have been cited to support the shorter reading, has been demonstrated to be a forgery made no earlier than the publication of Buttmann’s 1862 Novum Testamentum Graece, which was the model for its text.  This leaves three Greek witnesses for the non-inclusion of και νηστεια.            

Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are almost certainly products of the same scriptorium.  Tischendorf, Lake, Milne, Skeat, Elliott, and other textual critics regarded this to be the case.  (In 1999, Skeat proposed that both codices were produced in Caesarea under the supervision of Eusebius around 325.  In 2007, Elliott affirmed, “Scribe D of Sinaiticus was also very likely to have been one of two scribes of Codex Vaticanus.”)  But these two codices, from about 325 and 350, are not our earliest Greek witness to the text of Mark 9:29.  Papyrus 45 is older by a century or slightly more.        

The UBS-4 apparatus lists P45 as apparent support (“vid,” i.e., “videtur”) for the inclusion of και νηστεια in Mark 9:29.  In order to check this, I compared the extant text of Mark 9:28-31a with the text of Codex W (the text of which is the closest relative to the text of P45 in Mark) and made a tentative reconstruction of the full contents of a portion of the page of P45 that contains Mark 9:29.  Here is the result, with the extant text of P45 underlined and in bold letters: 

auton exelqen kai egeneto wsei nekroς wste pollouς legein
oti apeqanen o de ih krathsaς thς ceiroς autou hgeiren
auton kai eiselqontoς autou eiς oikon proshlqon autw
oi maqhtai kai hrwthsan auton legonteς oti hmeiς ouk
hdunhqhmen ekbalein auto kai eipen autoiς touto to genoς
en oudeni dunatai exelqein ei mh en proseuch kai nhsteia
Κakeiqen exelqonteς  pareporeuonto dia thς galilaiaς kai
ouk hqelen ina tiς gnw edidasken gar touς maqhtaς autou   
kai legei autoiς oti o uioς tou anqrwpou paradidotai anq. . .

Although some of the assumptions on which this reconstruction is based cannot be proven (such as the non-inclusion of κατ ιδιαν in Mark 9:28), I consider it very plausible due to the correspondence between the arrangement of the words in this reconstruction, and on the papyrus itself, which is shown here in a replica:

(This may be checked against the image at CSNTM, and the transcription supplied by P. W. Comfort in The Complete Text of the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts.) 
Only part of the word proseuch is extant in Mark 9:29 in P45; however, space-considerations virtually require that unless προσευχη was followed by και νηστεια, it was followed by a blank space, which seems uncharacteristic of the practice of the manuscript’s copyist. 
The testimony of Codex Vaticanus is straightforward; Mark 9:29 in Codex B ends on line 10 of a column.  A small blank space was left between προσευχη and the beginning of verse 30; the presence of small spaces between thematically distinct passages is not an unusual feature in B.  (The same feature occurs on the first line of this column, between Mark 9:27 and 9:28.) 

Before considering the testimony of Codex Sinaiticus, we turn to a patristic witness of equal or slightly earlier age.  De Virginitate, which has also been called Pseudo-Clement’s Second Epistle on Virginity, should be added to the witnesses in support of the fuller reading of Mark 9:29 (or to the inclusion of Matthew 17:21, or both).  Based on the English translation available online at , here is an excerpt from chapter 12: 

   Chapter 12 - Rules for Visits, Exorcisms, and How People are to Assist the Sick, and to Walk in All Things Without Offense.
   Moreover, also, this is fitting and useful, that a man “visit orphans and widows,” and especially those poor persons who have many children.  These things are, without controversy, required of the servants of God, and fitting and suitable for them.  This also, again, is suitable and right and fitting for those who are brethren in Christ, that they should visit those who are harassed by evil spirits, and pray and pronounce adjurations over them, intelligently, offering such prayer as is acceptable before God.
   They should not use a multitude of fine words, well prepared and arranged in order to appear eloquent and of a good memory.  Such men are ‘like a sounding pipe, or a tinkling cymbal,’ and they bring no help to those over whom they make their adjurations; but they speak with terrible words, and frighten people, but do not act with true faith, according to the teaching of our Lord, who has said, ‘This kind goes not out but by fasting and prayer,’ offered unceasingly and with earnest mind.  And in a holy manner let them ask and beg of God, with cheerfulness and all circumspection and purity, without hatred and without malice. 
   In this way let us approach a brother or a sister who is sick, and visit them in a way that is right, without guile, and without covetousness, and without noise, and without talkativeness, and without such behavior as is alien from the fear of God, and without haughtiness, but with the meek and lowly spirit of Christ.  Let them, therefore, with fasting and with prayer make their adjurations, and not with the elegant and well-arranged and fitly-ordered words of learning, but as men who have received the gift of healing from God, confidently, to the glory of God.  By your fastings and prayers and perpetual watching, together with your other good works, mortify the works of the flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit.  He who acts thus is a temple of the Holy Spirit of God.  Let this man cast out demons, and God will help him.” 

The exact composition-date of De Virginitate is debatable, but inasmuch as Jerome referred to it (around 393, in his work Against Jovianus, 1:12, regarding it as a genuine work of Clement), and Epiphanius used it (in Panarion 30:15, composed in the 370’s), the very latest possible composition-date for it is in the early-mid 300’s. 

In the next post, we will continue to examine external evidence that pertains to Mark 9:29 and the treatment of fasting in the early church.

Mark 9:29 and Prayer and Fasting and the Early Church

A small but interesting textual variant occurs at the end of Mark 9:29.  A veritable tsunami of Greek manuscripts and versional copies of Mark, constituting over 99.9% of all extant witnesses to this verse, state that Jesus said, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”  In three Greek manuscripts – Aleph, B, and 0274 – and in Codex Bobiensis (Old Latin k) and, according to the UBS4 apparatus, in an early stratum of the Old Georgian version represented by the Adysh Codex (produced in 897), Jesus says, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer,” with no mention of fasting.

The UBS4 and NA-27 text, echoing the 1881 WH text, adopted the shorter reading here.  Metzger summarized the reasoning for this:  “In light of the increasing emphasis in the early church on the necessity of fasting, it is understandable that και νηστεια is a gloss which found its way into most witnesses.  Among the witnesses that resisted such an accretion are important representatives of the Alexandrian, the Western, and the Caesarean types of text.”  The UBS committee gave the adoption of the shorter reading here an “A” rating, implying that the committee-members felt that this text “is virtually certain.”

The NET supports the same conclusion:  “Most witnesses, even early and excellent ones (P45vid Aleph2 A C D L W Θ Ψ f1, 13 33 M lat co), have “and fasting” (και νηστείᾳ, kai nēsteia), after “prayer” here.  But this seems to be a motivated reading, due to the early church’s emphasis on fasting (TCGNT 85, cf., e.g. 2 Clem 16:4, Pol. Phil 7:2; Did. 1:3, 7:4).  That the most important witnesses (Aleph* B), as well as a few others (0274 2427 k) lack και νηστεια, when a good reason for the omission is difficult to find, argues strongly for the shorter reading.”

Do those references provide sufficient grounds for the theory that early copyists considered fasting so important, and so commendable, that they would deliberately supplement a saying of Jesus about prayer by adding “and fasting”?  Did everyone in the early centuries of Christendom view fasting as an entirely positive activity (or rather, non-activity)?  For those who might not have convenient access to the contents of Second Clement, Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians, or the Didache, here are the references mentioned in the NET’s note:

Second Clement 16:4 says, Know ye that the Judgment Day approaches like a burning oven, and certain of the heavens and all the earth will melt, like lead melting in fire; and then will appear the hidden and manifest deeds of men.  Therefore alms-giving is good, as repentance from sin; fasting is better than prayer, and alms-giving is better than both.  ‘Charity covers a multitude of sins,’ and prayer out of a good conscience delivers from death.  Blessed is every one that shall be found complete in these; for alms lightens the burden of sin.”

The emphasis of this passage from Second Clement, in which the author loosely quotes Tobit 12:8-9 before also quoting First Peter 4:8b, is on alms-giving, not fasting.  Almsgiving, the author says, is more praiseworthy than fasting or prayer.  Yet no copyists, as far as I know, saw fit to place “and almsgiving” after any mention of prayer in the Gospels.
In chapter 7 of his Epistle to the Philippians, Polycarp wrote, “Forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning, watching unto prayer, and persevering in fasting, beseeching in our supplications the all-seeing God ‘not to lead us into temptation.’  As the Lord has said, ‘The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak.’”

This casual statement is hardly evidence of the sort of association between prayer and fasting that would lead a copyist to link them together like bacon-and-eggs. 

The Didache, in its opening paragraph, says, The way of life, then, is this:  first, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you. And of these sayings the teaching is this:  Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you.”

That’s more like it:  the author has paraphrased the fuller reading of Matthew 5:44.  (This reference should be remembered when evaluating that variant, especially inasmuch as it is not included in the UBS-4 apparatus.)  In doing so, he interchanged prayer and fasting, indicating that the two were conceptually linked in his mind. 

However, that is not all that the author of Didache had to say on the subject of fasting.  Two other statements from the Didache should be considered.  In the seventh chapter, which gives instructions about baptism, the author states, “Before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.”  This does not supply much of a basis for the idea that copyists felt obligated to supplement Mark 9:29 by adding “and fasting.” 

When we turn to the eighth chapter of the Didache (to which the NET’s notes did not draw attention), we find some interesting additional comments about fasting:       

“Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week. Rather, fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (Friday).  Do not pray like the hypocrites, but rather as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, like this:  ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors.  And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, evil); for Thine is the power and the glory forever.’  Pray this three times each day.”

(This reference should be remembered when evaluating the variant in Matthew 6:13.)

In the Didache, weekly fasts on Wednesdays and Fridays are commanded, but fasts on Mondays and Thursdays are prohibited on the grounds that Christians should not follow the fasting-pattern that is followed by “the hypocrites.”  This command seems to have been modeled on Matthew 6:16-18, combined with the understanding that the twice-weekly fasting of the Pharisees (mentioned in Luke 18:12) occurred on Mondays and Wednesdays.  The prayers and the fasts described in this part of the Didache are regular:  fasting was to be maintained twice a week, and prayer was to be offered three times a day.          

In Apostolic Constitutions, Book 5, which was compiled in about 380, an explanation is offered regarding why the Christians’ weekly fast-days are Wednesday and Friday.  The apostles are depicted stating that Jesus commanded them, after His resurrection, to fast on the fourth and sixth days of the week; the former on account of His being betrayed, and the latter on account of His passion.”  In the same composition, after a variety of details about the schedule for Easter-time, the 20th chapter concludes with the following words, framed as if the apostles themselves were speaking:

“We charge you to fast every fourth day of the week, and every day of the preparation [i.e., Fridays], and bestow upon the needy what you conserve by fasting.  Every Sabbath-day except one [the exception is Holy Saturday; this is explained in the previous chapter], and every Lord’s Day, hold your solemn assemblies, and rejoice.  For he will be guilty of sin who fasts on the Lord’s Day, being the day of resurrection, or during the time of Pentecost, or, in general, who is sad on a festival-day to the Lord.  For on them we ought to rejoice, and not to mourn.”

It seems sufficiently clear that by the late 300’s, and probably considerably earlier, both the instructions to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, and the prohibition against fasting on Mondays, Thursdays, and Sundays, were common practice in the locale where Apostolic Constitutions was compiled. 

The 48th chapter of Book 8 of Apostolic Constitutions is basically a list of rules for church-officers.  Some of these rules were about fasting:

   Rule 64:  If any one of the clergy be found to fast on the Lord’s Day, or on the Sabbath Day (with one exception), let him be deprived; but if one if the laity is found to do this, let him be suspended.
   Rule 69:  If any bishop, or presbyter, or deacon, or lector, or singer, does not fast the fast of 40 days, or the fourth day of the week, and the day of preparation, let him be deprived, unless he is hindered by physical weakness.  And if one of the laity is found to do this, let him be suspended.  
   Rule 70:  If any bishop, or any other of the clergy, fasts with the Jews, or keeps the festivals with them, or accepts some of the presents associated with their festivals, such as unleavened bread or some such thing, let him be deprived.  And if one of the laity is found to do this, let him be suspended.”

These rules from Book 8 of Apostolic Constitutions convey that not only was the twice-weekly fast to be enforced via church discipline, but that the thrice-weekly prohibition against fasting was also to be enforced with church discipline.  The same standard was mentioned by Epiphanius, who added (in De Fide, chapter 22) the detail that the twice-weekly fast was observed until the ninth hour of the day, and who also mentioned that the twice-weekly fasting was not observed during Pentecost, or on the Day of Epiphany [by which he meant Christmas-day, the day on which Christ was born].  Thus, while it is true, as the NET’s note states, that the early church had an emphasis on fasting, it is also true that the early church emphasized the avoidance of fasting just as much.
All this should be kept in mind as we turn to a closer consideration of some external evidence pertaining to Mark 9:29.