Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Matthew 1:25 - Mary's Firstborn Son

      With Christmas approaching, many Bible-readers are likely to encounter the variant-unit in Matthew 1:25 – The Byzantine Text says that Joseph “knew her not until she had brought forth her firstborn son, and he called his name Jesus.”  The Alexandrian Text says that Joseph “knew her not until she had brought forth a son, and he called his name Jesus.”
          Although there are some other variant-units in this verse, let’s focus today on this one:  “had brought forth a son,” or “had brought forth her firstborn son.”  With some data derived from Jonathan Clark Borland’s Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament blog, we can obtain some hard figures about the quantities involved in the support for each variant.  These numbers are slightly obsolete but nevertheless they indicate the proportions involved:  τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον (her firstborn son) is supported exactly by 1,446 MSS, and inexactly by 13 MSS; υιον (a son) is supported exactly by 7 MSS, and inexactly by 1 MS. 
           The seven manuscripts which support υιον include Sinaiticus (À) and Vaticanus (B).  Also listed in UBS4 is Z (035), that is, Codex Dublinensis, a palimpsest from the mid/late 500’s.  According to Swanson, 1, 1582*, 33, and 788 (a member of f13) also support υιον.  Borland describes this slightly differently, including them all, along with 071vid (400’s or 500’s, discovered at Oxyrhynchus) and 1192 (a member of f1), but qualifying Z as Zvid. 
           The testimony of 071 merits closer investigation.  This was the first item presented in 1910 in Volume 3 of Grenfell & Hunt’s series on the Oxyrhynchus Papyri and therein we find this acknowledgement:  “The vestiges are indecisive between υιον (ÀBZ, W-H.) and τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον (CDEKLM, T-R.), since with either reading the letters αυ would come where they appear to do in l. 14, and there is not enough at the beginning of l. 15 to show whether the word to which ν belongs was abbreviated or not.”  Thus 071 cannot legitimately be regarded as a witness for either reading.  (UBS2 listed 071vid as a witness for υιον but UBS4 does not.)
Mt. 1:25 in Codex Bezae (D)
          UBS4 lists f1 and f13 as support for υιον although most members of each family display the reading τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον; apparently the UBS compilers assumed that copyists have thoroughly conformed most group-members to the Byzantine reading.
          Willker provides data about the versional evidence (see variant-unit #10 in his Textual Commentary on the Greek Gospels); the Old Latin and Palestinian Aramaic are split; the Peshitta and the Vulgate and the Harklean Syriac favor τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον.  (The Vulgate reads:  “Et non cognoscebat eam donec peperit filium suum primogenitum: et vocavit nomen ejus Jesum.”)  The Nubian version, of which only scant remains are extant, favors τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον.  The Armenian and Ethiopic versions also favor τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον, although the Old Georgian supports υιον.  The Sahidic and Bohairic versions favor υιον, the Curetonian Syriac favors υιον, and the Sinaitic Syriac wanders off on its own with a reading that means “to him a son,” which is an aspect of the thorough corruption in the Sinaitic Syriac (shared, to an extent, by Codex Bobbiensis) in Matthean passages pertaining to the relationship between Joseph and Jesus.  The Gothic version is a non-witness here because Codex Argenteus is non-extant in Matthew 1:1-5:14.  The Middle Egyptian manuscript (Schoyen 2650) supports υιον.  
Mt. 1:25 in Codex Regius (L)
           As far as patristic evidence goes, UBS4 lists only Ambrose and Chromatius in support of υιον; however, Jerome, in Against Helvidius, in chapters 3 and 5 (written in 383), uses the reading with υιον, and in chapter 9 he appears to quote Helvidius doing so.  Bengel noticed this, but also noticed that Jerome, in his Commentary on Matthew (composed in 398), quotes the complete passage with the reading “she brought forth her firstborn son.”
           UBS4 lists Cyril of Jerusalem, Didymus, Didymusdub, Epiphanius (in Panarion 78:17), Chrysostom, Proclus, Jerome, and Augustine (Harmony of the Gospels, 2:5) as support for τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον.  Basil of Caesarea (330-379) also clearly utilized a text with τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον in Matthew 1:25. 
           The testimony of the Latin-writing author of Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum regarding Matthew 1:25 has been contested.  This work, from the early 400s, (it is worth mentioning that this composition was edited by Erasmus in 1530) quotes Matthew 1:25 as “Et non cognovit eam, donec peperit filium suum primogenitum” according to Migne’s P.G. vol. 56, col. 635, on lines 37-38 – supporting the Byzantine reading.  However, in the recent edition of Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum translated by James A. Kellerman (in the Ancient Christian Texts series), the quotation of Mt. 1:25 is presented as if it agrees with the Alexandrian reading.  However the content of what immediately follows indicates that the author read τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον:  the author mentions the view of followers of Eunomius and states that “he calls Christ the firstborn because we call him firstborn whom other siblings follow.”
Mt. 1:25 in Codex Sangallensis (Delta)
          The testimony of the Diatessaron is shown in Ephrem of Syrus’ commentary on the Diatessaron; in his comments on the birth and conception of Jesus (See Carmel McCarthy’s Saint Ephrem’s Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron, pages 45-65), Ephrem repeatedly cites verse 25:  “He lived with her chastely until she gave birth to her First-born.”
          The reference in UBS4 to Didymusdub refers to De Trinitate, 3:4, where the author (either Didymus, or someone else in Egypt in the late 300s) states:  “It helps us to understand the terms ‘firstborn’ and ‘only-begotten’ when the Evangelist states that Mary remained a virgin ‘until she brought forth her first-born Son;’ for neither did Mary, who is to be honored and praised above all others, marry anyone else, nor did she ever become the mother of anyone else, but even after childbirth she remained always and forever an immaculate virgin.”  Also, in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series, in the volume on Matthew, Chromatius is presented as quoting Matthew 1:25 in support of τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον in his Tractate on Matthew 3:1.  In the same volume on the same page, Chrysostom quotes Matthew 1:25 with υιον. 
With the external evidence described, we now turn to internal considerations.

          Metzger expressed the judgment of the UBS Committee when he dispatched the Byzantine reading in a single sentence:  “The Textus Receptus, following C D* K W Δ Π most minuscules al, inserts τόν before υιον and adds αυτης τόν πρωτότοκον (“her firstborn son”) from Lk 2.7.”  If this appraisal is correct, the words must have been inserted very early so as to appear in witnesses as diverse as D, W, the Vulgate, the Peshitta, the Diatessaron, and 087 (from the 500’s).  Against this consideration, however, one may counter that the reading υιον may be a natural conformation to the wording of Matthew 1:23 (which itself quotes from Isaiah 7:14).  A charge of harmonization can be made against the Byzantine reading, to the effect that a copyist reached into Luke to find the basis for an expansion, but a charge of harmonization can also be made against the Alexandrian reading, to the effect that a copyist reached back two verses to find the basis for an abridgment which yielded a tighter symmetry between the prophecy (in verse 23) and its fulfillment (in verse 25).
Mt. 1:25b in MS 490
          In addition, the theory that the Byzantine reading is a harmonization to Luke 2:7 faces an obstacle:  the popularity of the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.  As one can see from Jerome’s response to HelvidiusLuke’s reference to “her firstborn Son” was interpreted as evidence that Mary had subsequent children – the idea being that the existence of a firstborn implies a second-born, and thus that the individuals who are called Jesus’ brothers and sisters in the Gospels were literally the children of Mary, rather than Jesus’ cousins, or the children of Joseph from a previous marriage (as some writers in the early church insisted that they were).  The proposed harmonization thus requires that a copyist deliberately made the passage more difficult, which goes against the general tendencies of scribes.
          One might say, however, “If this was such a problem, why was the passage in Luke 2:7 left untouched?”.  But if we consider data which was unavailable to Westcott and Hort, we can see in Codex W that Luke 2:7 was not left altogether untouched:  although Codex W refers to Christ as “her first-born Son” in Matthew 1:25, in Luke 2:7 (where, as Willker notes, W’s text is predominantly Alexandrian), τόν πρωτότοκον is absent.  This is a fairly clear symptom of a theological concern.  And if it could happen in part of the early Alexandrian text-stream in Luke 2 (as seen in one Greek manuscript), it could happen in another part of the early Alexandrian text-stream in Matthew 1 (as seen in seven manuscripts).
Mt. 1:25 in MS 72
          An important consideration, however, is the question:  how likely is it that both Matthew and Luke would happen to employ the five-word phrase τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον?  This is not as improbable as one might initially assume.  One might similarly ask:  how likely is it that both Matthew and Luke would happen to employ the seven-word phrase υιον καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ιησουν?  Matthew has these exact words in Mt. 1:21; Luke has these exact words in Lk. 1:30 – because this phrase is based on the final phrase of the Septuagint’s text of Isaiah 7:14 (διὰ τοῦτο δώσει Κύριος αὐτὸς ὑμῖν σημεῖον· ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει, καὶ τέξεται υἱόν, καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ᾿Εμμανουήλ.)
           Two authors’ use of the same source can give a false impression that one author is dependent upon the other.  Is there an identifiable source which employs the phraseτον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον?  No.  However, it does not seem implausible that two authors could independently use the same common words to make a connection to to Exodus 4:22 – “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn.’” (LXX:   σὺ δὲ ἐρεῖς τῷ Φαραώ· τάδε λέγει Κύριος· υἱὸς πρωτότοκός μου ᾿Ισραήλ.)  An explicit identification of Jesus as “firstborn” is consistent with Matthew’s treatment of Hosea 11:1:  in Mt. 2:15, Matthew rejects the Septuagint’s rendering and follows instead the Hebrew reading of Hosea 11:1 – “Out of Egypt have I called My Son” – so as to construct a parallel between Israel, the anointed people, and Jesus, the anointed Person.
Mt. 1:25 in MS 478

          When one considers 
(1) the second-century support for τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον from the Diatessaron,
(2) the wide-ranging patristic support for τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον – from North Africa (Augustine) to Cyprus (Epiphanius) to Egypt (De Trinitate) to Syria (Peshitta) to Constantinople (Proclus),
(3) the likelihood that early scribes could regard τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον as potentially scandalous, drawing the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary into question,
(4) the evidence from Codex W that τον πρωτοτοκον was considered objectionable somewhere in the Alexandrian text-stream,
(5) the close proximity of Mt. 1:21, compared to the relatively distant proximity of Luke 2:7, rendering the former more likely to be the basis for a harmonization,
(6) the relative scope of support for the rival readings:  τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον has the support of approximately 99.4% of the Greek manuscripts, drawn from members of every text-type, whereas the epicenter of the shorter reading appears to be in Egypt, and
(7) the thematic consistency of a description of Jesus as a firstborn son in 1:25, echoing Exodus 4:22 (where Israel is the subject) in a way similar to the way in which Matthew 2:15 treats Hosea 11:1,

the evidence, on balance, favors τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον as the original reading; the Alexandrian reading is a conformation to the wording in Mt. 1:21 and 1:23. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Face of Jesus

Jesus the Christ
(by Richard Hook, 1962)
          Almost every year, when Christmas approaches, secular magazines publish stories about Jesus with outlandish claims and shocking headlines.  Even though these flimsy attempts to challenge the faith of Christian readers fall apart under examination, they successfully increase magazine-sales.  This year, however, it appears that the writers have gotten lazy.  Instead of introducing a new imaginary scandal about Jesus, they are recycling an old story about what Jesus might have looked like.  Originally the article The Real Face of Jesus by Mike Fillon appeared in Popular Mechanics in 2002.  The gist of that article is currently reappearing online, with plenty of embellishments; a video at the Salon website, for example, states that British scientists “were able to figure out the shape of Jesus’ head and facial muscles.”

Abgar, king of Edessa,
receiving the Mandylion.
(From a panel from Saint
Catherine's Monastery)
          When one takes a close look at the article, the events that led up to it are not hard to discern:  Richard Neave, a specialist at forensic reconstruction, was given some skull-bones that had been obtained from excavations of first-century sites in Israel.  Neave reconstructed the head of an individual whose skull-bones he had been given.
          Many of the details of the reconstruction, including the shape of the eyes, the shape of the ears, the shape of the nose, and the shape of the mouth, the pigmentation, and the hair-style, are based on guesswork – and this was acknowledged in the 2002 article.  What we have here is a reconstruction of the face of Random Dead Guy, and while the basic profile shows what somebody in first-century Judea could have looked like, it is not a scientific reconstruction of the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and hair of Jesus.  One could label Neave’s  reconstruction “The Real Face of Rabbi Gamaliel” or “The Real Face of Lazarus” or “The Real Face of the Apostle James” with more justification.
         An article called, “The Real Face of a Random First-century Jewish Man” would be more honest, but it would not sell very many magazines.  That is why we got the article-title that appeared back in 2002, and that is why we are seeing it again in 2015.  I suspect that the data from Mike Fillon’s article is being recycled not only to sell magazines but also to provide the basis for a charge of racism and/or hypocrisy against American Christians who are reluctant to open the borders to Middle-Eastern refugees, in light of the probability that Islamic extremists may take advantage of the refugee-crisis as an opportunity to enter the United States intending to do harm to Americans.  But for the moment, let’s set aside that concern, and focus on the question that has been raised:  what did Jesus look like?     
From the Catacombs of
Commodilla, at Rome
From the Catacombs of
Marcellinus, at Rome.
          We have no scientifically verified evidence of what Jesus looked like; nor do we have early historical accounts that mention his appearance (other than two Old Testament passages:   Isaiah 50:6, which mentions the beard of the Servant of the Lord, and the prophecy in Isaiah 53:2, which indicates that His physical appearance was unremarkable).  The earliest report of an image of the face of Jesus is contained in an expanded form of a story that is found in chapter 13 of Book One of Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius of Caesarea. Eusebius wrote in the early 300’s, but he stated that he had obtained the report from an earlier account, which had been written in the Syriac language and which had been found in the archives in the city of Edessa – including the text of a letter from Abgar to Jesus, and the response from Jesus to Abgar.  This report is known as the Story of Abgar and it was extremely popular in the early Middle Ages.
A page from the Rabbula Gospels, depicting
Christ's death on the cross, the visit of the
women to the empty tomb, and His appearance
to the women after He rose from the dead.
          When the story was retold in the early 400’s in a composite-work called the Doctrine of Addai, it included an additional detail, stating that the emissary of Abgar, when he realized that Jesus would not go to Abgar, was allowed to paint a picture of Jesus.  (In other versions of the story, the emissary attempts to paint a picture but is unable to do so, so Jesus Himself pours water on His face and miraculously transfers the image of His face onto a cloth.)  This item, called the Mandylion, is mentioned in accounts from as late as 944, when it is said to have been taken from Edessa to Constantinople – but written details about the image itself are not given.  Several medieval artistic representations of the Mandylion, however, still exist.    
          Similarly, there is a persistent tradition that Saint Veronica – the woman afflicted with an issue of blood, who was healed when she touched the hem of Jesus’ robe, as recorded in the Gospels – saw Jesus bearing the cross, and when she tried to wipe His face with a towel, the image of His face was transferred to the towel.  This tradition is the basis for the “Sixth Station of the Cross” in Easter-processions observed by some denominations.
          The earliest artistic depictions of Jesus are in wall-paintings in the Syrian city of Dura-Europos, (which was destroyed in a war in A.D. 256).  An artist used the motif of the Good Shepherd (which is not uniquely Christian – although easily adapted to interlock with Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John) in a picture above the baptistry in the earliest known Christian house-church.  Another depiction of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome.
Christ Pantocrator - the image itself (at left),
and the mirror-images of each half.

A similar image is at Constantinople.
          The pictures at Dura-Europos leave something to be desired as far as the details of Christ’s face are concerned.  Early pictures in the catacombs at Rome provide more detail.  In a Syriac manuscript of the four Gospels, known as the Rabbula Gospels, a series of pictures preceding the text includes several images of Jesus and His disciplesThis manuscript is from the year 586.
          Perhaps the most definitive early image of Jesus is the Pantocrator of Saint Catherine’s Monastery.  This icon, produced in the 500’s or 600’s (possibly in Constantinople during the reign of Justinian), employs a motif that is very widespread in Eastern Christendom.  The picture may have been designed to convey the dual nature of Christ – human, and divine.  Or, the two halves may represent the opposite roles of Christ on Judgment Day – either as a welcoming friend, or a weeping judge.
by Rembrandt (1648)
by Van Dyck (c. 1625)
          This kind of image – with dark, shoulder-length hair and dark eyes – was the standard depiction of Christ in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance.  Not all European artists adhered to it, but many of them did.  Sometimes when an artist resorted to a semi-abstract style (as in the Book of Kells) or blended mythological motifs with Christian ones, anything could happen.  Occasionally artists painted Christ without a beard – for instance, in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, and in The Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio – but in general, the iconic features of the Pantocrator were maintained with consistency until the 1800’s. 
       An objection has been repeatedly raised about the shoulder-length hair in these depictions, on the grounds that Saint Paul, in First Corinthians 11:14, wrote, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a shame unto him?” – the idea being that Paul would not have said this if Jesus’ hair had been long.  However, it seems likely to me that Paul was thinking of hair much longer than shoulder-length.  It was not unusual in the first century for Jewish men to take temporary Nazarite vows, which (according to Numbers 6:1-8) involved, among other things, letting one’s hair grow.  Paul himself took such a vow and let his hair grow so long that when he got a haircut, his fellow-traveler Luke made a note of it, in Acts 18:18.  Thus there is no Biblical or historical objection against the idea that the length of Jesus’ hair varied from time to time.
Head of Christ
          In the 1800’s, some European and American artists, either guided by the imperialistic spirit of the times, or by racism, or by simple ignorance of the historical probabilities involved, portrayed Jesus with distinctly European features.   (Sometimes, artists made pictures of Jesus based on visions, too; some of these have been unfairly misinterpreted as if they were meant as representations of what Jesus looked like during His ministry.)
          This trend continued into the 1900’s, and influenced Warner Sallman, whose picture Head of Christ was so thoroughly distributed that in the United States it has almost become the definitive portrait of Christ, even though in the original painting (Sallman made several versions of this picture), Jesus has blue eyes, a feature extremely unlikely to be historically accurate.
          Sallman claimed that his picture was based on a vision, or dream, that he had experienced, and for some folks, such testimony is enough to add plausibility to the accuracy of the picture.
The face on the Shroud of Turin,
and a portrait of Jesus based on it.
          However, there are at least two good reasons not to rely on dreams as the basis of a theory of what Jesus looked like during His ministry.  First, because in Revelation, when Jesus appears in a vision, He has a glorified, heavenly form that is far different from the everyday earthly form He had during His ministry.  Second, because it is possible for a human being to subconsciously picture Jesus in a dream, using whatever preconception he has, just as it is possible for a person to dream about Jesus speaking English, or Spanish, or Arabic.  The genuineness of any particular such dream or vision is not the question at hand; I only mean to point out that they are not secure guides to what Jesus looked like during His ministry, any more than they are secure guides to what language or languages Jesus spoke during His ministry.  Dreams are very personal things.
Brian Deacon, actor -
The Jesus Film
          In the past 50 years, many artists have consciously attempted to return to a more historically plausible portrayal of what Jesus looked like.  As a result, the portrayals of Christ by more recent artists, such as Richard and Francis Hook, tend to resemble the ancient depictions found in icons, though often from different angles, and with different expressions.  
          Some artists have made portraits of Christ based on the face on the Shroud of Turin – the features of which resemble the depiction in many medieval icons.  Movies, however, have been inconsistent; some movies about Jesus have featured rather European-looking actors; others, however, such as The Jesus Film, have featured actors whose natural features resemble the iconic depiction of Jesus. 
           While we should be concerned not to misrepresent the historical aspects of Jesus’ appearance (to whatever extent they can be surmised), a higher priority should be to affirm that Christ is the fellow-heir of every member of His church, regardless of nation or language or any physical trait.  He is, as Colossians 1:15 says, the image (in Greek, εικων, eikon) of the invisible God.  If we want to see what Jesus looks like, then let us pursue His presence in our lives, seeing Christ in those in need, so that Christ may be seen in the church.  Let us consider the true meaning of Psalm 27:7-8:
        “Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice!  Be gracious to me, and answer me.  When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, LORD, I will seek.””

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Review of Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism (Porter and Pitts)

          Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts recently co-authored an introduction to New Testament textual criticism intended to serve as a “midlevel textbook” somewhat simpler than Metzger’s Text of the New Testament.  In less than 200 pages, their new book covers text-critical materials, methodologies, and related subjects.  Unfortunately it also contains much material with very little relevance to textual criticism, and it is littered with erroneous claims on even the most elementary points.  This renders it unfit for use as a textbook.
          The entire second chapter of Fundamentals (pages 9-32) is about the development of the canon – a worthwhile subject in a survey-course, but not in an introduction to textual criticism.  In the following chapter, Materials and Methods of Classification, the readers is given a lesson in literacy-rates in ancient Roman society, a description of the papyrus-plant, an anecdote about Galen, and so forth.  Writing-materials are assigned to four categories:  papyri, parchment, scrolls, and codices.   
          On page 46, handwriting-categories are listed, but none of them are accompanied by illustrations.  Also stated on page 46:  “Majuscule (meaning “large”) is a square hand with large letters that employs no spacing between the words and is only found in the earlier codices (usually not after the seventh century).”  This claim that majuscule lettering is usually not found after the 600’s is rather inaccurate.  That is a minor inaccuracy, however, compared to the glaring error on page 50, where the authors list the numbers of New Testament papyri, majuscules, minuscules, and lectionaries:  
          Papyri:  128
          Majuscule manuscripts:  2,911
          Minuscule manuscripts:   1,807
          Lectionaries:  2,381
          Total:  7,227

          These totals are always fluctuating, so it is understandable that the authors did not cite the current total number of papyri (134), but, regarding the other numbers, here are the totals supplied by J. K. Elliott (in Novum Testamentum) six years ago:
           Papyri:  126
          Uncials/Majuscules:  320 
          Minuscules:  2,899
          Lectionaries:  2,438 

          The number of majuscules supplied by Porter and Pitts is about 2,580 too high; their number of minuscules is about 1,130 too low, and their number of lectionaries is at least 50 too low.  How they managed to supply their erroneous quantities, and proceed to add them together, without noticing that something was amiss, is a mystery.
          A reader coming to the fourth chapter, The Major Witnesses of the New Testament, might expect that here he will encounter descriptions of the major witnesses of the New Testament.  What is presented, however – after a description of Tischendorf’s contributions involving Codices C, B, and À (Porter and Pitts claim that Tischendorf found the monks of Saint Catherine’s monastery “burning what he identified as the earliest manuscript he had ever seen”) – is basically a concise description of Codex Sinaiticus, and a set of lists.  Eighteen papyri are listed and very briefly described; P66, for example, merits all of 28 words.  P45 and P75 are not included in the list.  This is followed by a list of 14 uncials, similarly treated; Codex W receives 15 words.  Codex D receives six words.  Even less effort is expended on the minuscules; four minuscules are listed individually, as well as family-1 and family-13.  Likewise five lectionaries are listed before the authors move along.  There are no illustrations of minuscules or lectionaries (although there is a picture of a fragment of Psalm 3, and the Great Isaiah Scroll).
          Next, Porter and Pitts take the reader on a short tour of early versions, covering the Diatessaron, the Syriac versions, Latin versions, Coptic versions, the Ethiopic version, and the Armenian version in the course of five pages.  Then, on page 68, the reader is told, “We have had to pass over a number of other versions, such as the Georgian and Gothic.”  Why?  The Palestinian Aramaic version is not mentioned.  Also, Porter and Pitts state that the oldest Ethiopic manuscript “dates from around the tenth century,” which is incorrect; the Garima Gospels has been assigned (and carbon-dated) to the 500’s.
          The treatment of patristic evidence in Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism amounts to little more than a list, borrowed from the fourth edition of Metzger’s (and Ehrman’s) The Text of the New Testament.  Porter and Pitts then name the Epistle of Diognetus as if it is another important patristic writing that frequently cites the New Testament, even though it is of only minimal importance for text-critical purposes.
          Chapter five, Text-Types, beginning promisingly with a clear definition of what a text-type is:  “Text-types share a number of similar readings that are not typical in other families.”  Unfortunately this clear sentence is followed by several others that are likely to elicit false impressions from readers unfamiliar with New Testament textual criticism (that is, readers for whom the book was intended).  Did the Western text really originate at Rome?  Was the Complutensian Polyglot a “Greek-Latin edition” of the Bible?  Was Tischendorf’s 8th edition “the major turning point” away from the Textus Receptus?  Did the Western text emerge “early in the fourth century”?  Do KJV-only fundamentalists support the Byzantine Text?  Imprecision lurks on practically every page of this chapter.  And there is no disguising an aggressive agenda in the authors’ attempt to associate the advocacy of the Byzantine Text with KJV-onlyism:  the authors’ descriptions of the Alexandrian, Western, and Caesarean text-types are framed relatively objectively (though there are some problems here, too), but when the Byzantine text is the subject (or target), the authors detour into theological concerns. 
          The authors appear to be unfamiliar with the actual case for Byzantine Priority (inasmuch as they only respond to “the argument from number” and nothing else), and even more unfamiliar with KJV-onlyism (inasmuch as they refer repeatedly to KJV-Onlyists as if they support a text which disagrees with the base-text of the KJV New Testament in hundreds of translatable points).  If Harry Sturz’s The Byzantine Text-type & New Testament Textual Criticism had not been included in a chapter-bibliography, I would have concluded that the authors must have never seen the data accumulated by Harry Sturz:  the authors state, “The earliest manuscripts of the NT are found among the papyri, and of the 128 currently available, none of them contains distinctively Byzantine readings.”  Sturz showed, to the contrary, that while no early papyrus agrees with the Byzantine text 100%, many distinctively Byzantine readings – that is, readings which are Byzantine, and not Western, and not Alexandrian – have been found in papyri.  I do not know how Porter and Pitts managed to produce a sentence so contrary to facts of which Sturz’s book must have made them aware. 
          After chapter six, in which eight pages are expended to define what a textual variant is, most of the next four chapters is a discussion about text-critical methodology.  In these chapters Porter and Pitts made several mistakes, including the following:
● They attribute The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text to Wilbur Pickering, instead of to Zane Hodges and Art Farstad. 
● They claim that when thoroughgoing (i.e. rigorous) eclecticism is used, “many decisions made according to this methodology reflect late Byzantine readings.”  (Many?)
● They refer to the Nestle-Aland and UBS compilations as eclectic texts, but also affirm (on page 59) that two manuscripts, “Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, are the basis of the modern Greek NT.”  The student-reader may wonder how a compilation built primarily upon just two manuscripts can have a legitimate claim to be called significantly “eclectic.” 

          Several errors, oversimplifications, and facile arguments are in the closing chapters; to enumerate them all would be wearisome but here are a few:
● When Porter and Pitts address Bart Ehrman’s concerns about orthodox corruptions, particularly in the case of Luke 22:43-44, they do not bother presenting the relevant external evidence, but casually concede that the text is not original.  This is a rather shallow way of doing things.
● When addressing Ehrman’s treatment of First John 4:2-3, Porter and Pitts cavalierly dismiss the reading that means “loosened,” on the grounds that it is “obscure and late,” ignoring the patristic evidence for this reading’s early existence.
● Porter and Pitts list 10 words that appear in Mark 16:9-20 but nowhere else in Mark, and present this as evidence that “there is no cohesion between the lexical items in the long ending of Mark and the Gospel of Mark as a whole,” as if they are oblivious to the observations of Bruce Terry and other researchers who have pointed out that in another 12-verse portion of Mark, there are at least 20 words that appear there, and nowhere else in Mark, significantly weakening the vocabulary-based argument.   
● Porter and Pitts seems to contradict their own text-critical approach when, in a brief and imprecise discussion of the well-known variant-unit in First Timothy 3:16, they casually posit that “It was probably the case that ος was substituted for the nomen sacrum θς accidentally.”  (Do they realize that they are rejecting a reading ranked “A” by the UBS compilers?)
● On page 151, Porter and Pitts state that Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 “have very little manuscript support.”  When I read this, I was tempted to toss the book into the trash.  Mark 16:9-20 has over 1,600 manuscripts in its favor, as well as widespread and early patristic support; only in Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and 304 (a damaged medieval copy in which the Byzantine text of Matthew and Mark is interspersed with commentary) does the text of Mark stops at 16:8.  And John 7:53-8:11 is contained in at least nearly 85% of the Greek manuscripts of John, that is, 1,495 Greek manuscripts..

          Chapter 11 briefly reviews the history of the printed text of the Greek New Testament.  Here, too, Porter and Pitts make mistakes, such as repeating the tall tale about Erasmus promising to include the Comma Johanneum if a Greek manuscript could be found that contained it, and so forth.  The essay by Henk de Jonge that dismantled this tall tale was published in 1980.  It has been available on the internet for years.  The observation that Porter and Pitts are still unaware of that article 35 years later does not instill one with confidence that they are well-informed on the subject they have undertaken to teach. 
          Chapter 12 consists of a lesson about how to use the UBS and Nestle-Aland compilations, and decipher the apparatus – which is rather superfluous, inasmuch as the same instructions are in the introductions of UBS4 and NA27.  (The instructions in UBS4 and NA27 are better; Porter and Pitts fail to mention some things, such as the kephalaia-numbers in the inner margin of NA27.)
          Chapter 13, Text and Translation, does not directly pertain to New Testament textual criticism, so one may wonder what it’s doing in this book.  Some of this chapter restates what one finds on pages 137-139 (compare page 139 – “It was from Erasmus’ text that the Authorized Version (later known as the KJV) was translated in 1611” – to page 182 – “It was from Erasmus’ text that the AV NT was translated in 1611.” – thus twice making a somewhat inaccurate claim, inasmuch as the KJV’s base-text is closer to Beza’s 1598 edition.)   Perhaps the authors simply wanted to recommend gender-inclusive language (on page 187) – and obviously at this point we have left the fundamentals of New Testament textual criticism far behind.  Or perhaps they wanted to recommend (on page 184) that translators should remove passages – specifically, John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20 – that have “very little manuscript support.”  (Very little?  Only 85%, and 99.9%, of the Greek manuscripts!)  Of course if text-compilers and/or translators were to really remove readings with very little manuscript support, the result would resemble the Byzantine Text very much more than it would resemble the text which Porter and Pitts seem to currently favor.
           If you are looking for an accurate, balanced, detailed introduction to the fundamentals of New Testament textual criticism, look elsewhere.  This book should never have been published in such flawed condition.

[Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism, cited here for review purposes, is © 2015 Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts, and published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.  All rights reserved.]

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Sith in the Bible

          As we enter the Christmas season, many Americans are counting the days, not till Christmas, but until the release of the movie Star Wars:  The Force Awakens.  And just as it is helpful to be ready to answer the question, “Is there a Santa Claus?” in a gentle, sensitive, and honest way that points to Christ, it might be helpful to address the question, “What can we learn from Star Wars?”.  I don’t know that worthwhile lessons can be learned from the coming movie, since I have not yet seen it, but there might be some things to consider – food for thought, so to speak – in earlier Star Wars movies, games, and comic books. 
"Sith" in Ezekiel 35:6.
          In the movie Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker says, “If you are not with me, then you’re my enemy,” to which Obi-Wan Kenobi answers, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”  Inasmuch as Jesus, in Matthew 10:30, says, “He who is not with me is against me,” this might lead someone to conclude that Jesus’ system of ethics, in which the standard of moral goodness emanates without change from the character of God, is more like that of the Sith than the Jedi.  And, while the Bible makes no mention at all of the Jedi, the word “sith” occurs in the King James Version, in Ezekiel 35:6, right after a mention of “the force” in the course of a prophecy against the nation of Edom. (“Sith” is an archaic form of “since,” or, “seeing that.”)  These parallels appear to be merely coincidences, or luck, just as it is a matter of coincidence that Daniel Wallace, a textual critic who oversees a vast library of digital images of ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, has the same name as the author of a recent book that represents ancient manuscripts of Jedi lore and customs.   
By the other
Daniel Wallace.
        I would caution against expecting a strong affirmation of Christian values from a franchise that consistently promotes a fictitious sort of Eastern mysticism.  Nevertheless some aspects of the teachings of the fictitious Jedi overlap some aspects of Christian ethics.  Perhaps there is no better illustration of this resemblance than in the Jedi Code.
          In the Star Wars galaxy, the Jedi Code was standardized by a Jedi Master named Odan-Urr, thousands of years before the Star Wars movies began.  The Jedi Code is a code, not only in the sense that it establishes a set of moral standards, but also in the sense that it is a sort of riddle to be solved by careful contemplation of its meaning:  “There is no emotion, there is peace.  There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.  There is no passion, there is serenity.  There is no chaos, there is harmony.  There is no death, there is the Force.”
          Taken at face value, the Jedi Code appears to encourage a level of stoicism that is foreign to the actions and attitudes of the Jedi in all the Star Wars movies.  Unless one is willing to conclude that the Jedi do not understand their own code, one must look beyond the literal level to understand these words.   
          Odan-Urr was from the planet Draethos, and a theory about a quirk in the ancient Draethos language may help one see through the code’s otherwise opaque and puzzling sentences.  The theory goes as follows:  in the language of Draethos, as it was spoken when Odan-Urr standardized the code, when something was in motion, and someone asked, “Where is it?”, the answer would be that it was going toward its destination, rather than that it was at whatever location it happened to be.  Thus if one were to ask a Draethos, “How old are you?” the answer would not be, “I am 850,” – the Draethos have great longevity – but rather, “I am becoming 851,” except at the very moment when the birthday and birth-time occurred.  Similarly, if you asked an apprentice-carpenter about his vocation, he would not say, “I am a carpenter’s apprentice” but rather, “I am becoming a carpenter.”  According to this theory, transient things, or things in transition, were described as if they did not exist, but were coming into existence; stability, permanence, and existence were almost synonymous.  With this in mind we undertake the interpretation of the Jedi Code.   

There is no emotion, there is peace.  This does not endorse stoicism, but teaches, instead, that emotions are reactions to circumstances, which are always changing.  One’s actions should be based on one’s character, and character should not vary as circumstances change, but remain consistent with the pursuit of the peace that comes through the fulfillment of one’s purpose.  An emotion should be considered desirable or undesirable depending on whether it contributes to or distracts from one’s purpose.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.  It is inevitable that a Jedi will encounter puzzling situations that he does not know how to resolve, and which may even seem impossible.  However, the knowledge that one does not know something is the first step toward knowing it.  A Jedi should acknowledge his ignorance but rather than embrace it as a permanent state, he should regard it as an invitation to acquire knowledge, to make discoveries, and to satisfy his curiosity, within the limits of wisdom.  When this attitude is a regimen of the mind, ignorance is the herald of knowledge. 

There is no passion, there is serenity.  Of all emotions, those which involve attachment are among the most dangerous to a Jedi, for they lead to self-assertion, which leads to obsessive passion.  Attachment would be good, were it not an obstacle to what is best.  To say of anyone or anything that it belongs to oneself is to challenge the nature of things, for nothing in the physical universe remains with us, as we do not remain with it.  A Jedi is a steward, or a guardian, but not an owner, and should seek to value all beings and all things to the degree proper to their nature, rather than according to how he may be benefited by their service to him.  His ambition should be to serve, rather than to be served.  When a Jedi is undistracted by selfish attachment and passion, he will approach all tasks with serenity, knowing that whatever the outcome, he has lost nothing, for nothing belongs to him.  [Even so, try not to lose your lightsaber.]

There is no chaos, there is harmony.  [Some early MSS do not include this line.]  It is not unusual for a Jedi to experience losses which later appear to have been preventable, and to know others who have experienced such losses.  Similarly one may have beneficial or profitable experiences which one did not design, and which also seem, in retrospect, to have been avoidable.  The outcome of a battle and the rise or fall of empires may pivot upon the smallest of details.  When a Jedi contemplates any experience that appears to be a matter of chance, whether initially harmful or beneficial, the experience should be considered to have a purpose which is not yet perceived.  A Jedi who truly acknowledges this will either be able to discover harmony and purpose in any circumstance, or be content that such harmony and purpose will ultimately be revealed.

There is no death, there is the Force.  Each Jedi is a luminous being, and rather than consisting of his physical body is a steward of it.  The Jedi do not deny the reality of death; yet many masters, strong in the Force, have affirmed that even the departure from this plane of existence should be regarded as a continuing journey rather than a destination.  And, from a certain point of view, we will never be totally unbound from those we leave behind.  The purposes for which we were entrusted with our tangible lives, and given our bond with the Force – to secure peace, to share knowledge, to pursue wisdom – continue to be fulfilled in the lives of those in whom our lives have been invested.          


          If this interpretation is accurate, then some elements of the Jedi Code interlock very well with Christian theology – and others, not so much.  I hope that as Star Wars:  The Force Awakens entertains cinema-goers by the millions this month, it will include some worthwhile lessons.  Let’s try to find the good in everything – rejecting whatever is evil, and keeping what is good.  I wish you all a merry Christmas season, and may the Lord be with you.