Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Blood Moons, Signs of the End, and Two Small Textual Variants

          This coming weekend, a lunar eclipse will occur, bringing to an end (I hope) the speculation that a recent series of four lunar eclipses, of which this one will be the fourth, has a special significance as a sign of the end-times.  The view that these particular lunar eclipses may be portents of the end of the world was developed by Mark Biltz, who recently expressed his ideas in a book, Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavenly Signs.  Biltz’s theory was expanded and popularized by John Hagee, a preacher in Texas, in his book, Four Blood Moons: Something Is About To Change.  In my view, both Biltz (who seems to be affiliated with the highly problematic "Hebrew Roots Movement") and Hagee should apologize to their readers for severely overstating the importance of these lunar eclipses.  (For a lucid review of Hagees views about the “blood moons” see the brief two-part article prepared by Christian astrophysicist Hugh Ross.)
          There is little that textual criticism can offer to discourage poorly grounded theories about signs of the end-times – but little is more than nothing, so let’s take a look at two passages from two prophecies in the New Testament that involve both the moon and the end of the world:  Matthew 24 (paralleled in Mark 13 and Luke 21) and Revelation 6.  Both of these prophetic chapters involve scenes which bring to mind the wording of Joel 3:15:  “The sun and moon will grow dark, and the stars will diminish their brightness.”  And in their descriptions of signs of the end of the world, they both contain small textual variants.
          In Matthew 24:7, after famines are mentioned, almost all of the Greek manuscripts include the words “and pestilences,” or “and plagues.”  However, in most of the newer translations – the ESV, NIV and NLT – there is no reference to pestilences or plagues at all in Matthew 24:7.  The HCSB does not mention them in the text either, but a footnote says, “Other manuscripts add epidemics.”  This gives readers a very one-sided and incomplete impression of how strongly the Greek manuscript-evidence favors the inclusion of και λοιμοι (“and pestilences”).
          In the apparatus of the fourth edition of the UBS Greek New Testament, only five manuscripts are cited as support for the non-inclusion of λοιμοι:  Sinaiticus (À), Vaticanus (B), Bezae (D), Basiliensis (E), and the minuscule 892.  However, only two of those manuscripts (E and 892) have precisely the text that is in UBS4:  Bezae has a spelling-variation, Vaticanus has a spelling-variation, and Sinaiticus puts earthquakes before famines (besides having two spelling-variations).  Furthermore, in Codex E, the short text has been corrected; the words και λοιμοι are written in uncial-script in the margin, and a mark shows where they should be placed in the text (after λιμοι).
          As an alternative to the position that the exact form of the text of Matthew 24:7 is preserved in no uncials except E (in which the absent και λοιμοι is in the margin, apparently added by the copyist himself), and in no minuscules except 892, I propose that και λοιμοι is part of the original text, and that it was accidentally lost when an early copyist’s line of sight drifted from the final letters of λοιμοι to the final letters of λιμοι.  The similarity of the words λοιμοι and λιμοι and the recurrence of –αι at the end of εσονται and at the end of και in this verse also contributed to the omission.
          Besides exhibiting how the Alexandrian Text was shortened by early scribes (not, in this case, due to any mischievousness, but because of negligence), this little variant illustrates – contrary to the claims of some researchers – that the translators of the KJV paid close attention to the Greek text instead of just reproducing the work of Tyndale and other earlier translators.  
          In Tyndale’s 1534 English New Testament, this verse refers to “pestilence, honger and erth quakes.”  Likewise in the 1557 Geneva Bible, Jesus stated in Matthew 24:7, “There shal be “pestilence, honger, and earthquakes,” that is, λοιμοι και λιμοι και σεισμοι instead of λιμοι και λοιμοι και σεισμοι.  This word-order is supported by the Vulgate, and by Codex W (which was unknown to modern researchers until the early 1900’s) and by Codex L (which was cited in the notes of Stephanus’ 1550 edition of the Textus Receptus).  Erasmus' 1516 text read the Greek equivalent of "famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes."  So did the text compiled by Theodore Beza.  The King James Version’s translators made their English translation fit the Greek text of Matthew 24:7 precisely, adjusting the word-order and expressing the conjunctions. 
          So when looking for signs of the end, remember Jesus’ words of caution first:  “Take heed that no man deceive you.”  In and of themselves, the arrivals of false prophets and false teachers and false messiahs are nothing special.  In and of themselves, wars do not signal the end-times.  Nor do famines and pestilences and earthquakes in various places.  These things come and go.
          Now let’s look into Revelation 6:12, where John describes the vision of the sixth seal:  “I looked when he opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black like sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood.”
          When Erasmus initially compiled the book of Revelation, he had one manuscript, which had been entrusted to his temporary care by Johann Reuchlin, a fellow scholar (who was also the uncle of Philip Melanchthon, a very influential Reformer).  This manuscript used to be known as 1r (not to be confused with 1, an important Gospels-manuscript).  For some time its location was unknown.  When it resurfaced in 1861, researcher Franz Delitzsch realized that it was the same manuscript that Erasmus had used.  As Erasmus had stated in his annotations on the text, this manuscript had undergone some damage, and for that reason, it was missing the last six verses of the final chapter.
          Reuchlin’s manuscript has been given a new identification-number:  2814.  It was produced in the 1100’s, and contains not only the Greek text of Revelation but also the commentary on Revelation written by Andrew of Caesarea (the Caesarea in Cappadocia, not the one in Israel) in the year 610.  Like 82 other Greek copies of Revelation, it contains not only the text of Revelation but also the text of Andrew of Caesarea’s commentary.  (Fifteen other manuscripts of Revelation, while lacking the full commentary, feature extracts from Andrew’s work.)
          In the Majority Text compiled by Hodges and Farstad, and in the Byzantine Text compiled by Robinson and Pierpont, the Greek word ολη (“whole”) follows the Greek word σεληνη (“moon”).  Apparently a copyist skipped this word when his line of sight drifted from the final letter of σεληνη to the final letter of ολη.  Not only does the majority-text of Revelation include the word ολη here, but so does Codex A, and so does the Nestle-Aland compilation.  If one considers this combination of testimony to be trustworthy, then one may conclude that the original text of Revelation 6:12 included a small emphasis – not just the moon turned to blood, but the whole moon – which was lacking in the Textus Receptus.  The effect of this difference is, however, extremely small. 
          Those wishing to investigate such details further may consult Herman Hoskier’s 1929 book Concerning the Text of the Apocalypse, in which he collated every Greek manuscript of Revelation that was known to him, and also separated the manuscripts into groups and sub-groups according to shared distinctive readings.   
(It should be noted, as a point of caution, that on page XXXVIII of his introduction, Hoskier stated that “for what it may be worth,” he had included in the apparatus a reading (in Rev. 21:4) that was claimed to have been obtained via a séance-like spirit-channeling-session in 1856.  The basis for this appears to have been nothing more than a book written by Baron Guldenstubbe in French in 1857.  I suspect that Hoskier regarded this as merely a curiosity, but included it in his apparatus in order to maintain with absolute veracity his claim to have collated every Greek manuscript that testified about the text of Revelation.)

          One additional little thought occurs to me when thinking about eclipses.  The technical term for what happens when the sun, earth, and moon align (either in a solar eclipse, or in a lunar eclipse) is “syzygy,” which has a Greek root.  A similar word occurs in Philippians 4:3, where Paul refers to his true “yoke-fellow” – Συζυγε.  Some commentators (and the creators of a few English paraphrases) have theorized that this might not be an adjective, but a proper name, Syzygus (otherwise unknown).  May we all be yoke-fellows of one another, and of Christ – ready to serve Him, and ready to meet Him, as He said in Matthew 24:44:  “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”  

1 comment:

John Podgorney said...

James, your detailed handling of the manuscript evidence is always interesting. I also see that the Byz. text types have important things to say, and that the KJV translators were not ignorant men, but scholars who did fine work. Nice work as always. Thanks for the great read!I hope the message gets across to others.