Monday, February 28, 2011

"most scholars agree" (Part 2), in Biblical Proportions!

A simple search on Google Books reveals again another remarkable feature of our catch-phrase:  It appears in books about the NT more than in any other category of books!   I think this nails the 'apologetic', hyperbolic flavor of the madness.   Here are some samples, graded for extremeness and tenuous credibility:


"most biblical scholars and historians agree that
Mark was the earliest Gospel..." - M. Martin, The Case Against Christianity, (1993) p. 43

"most scholars would surely agree with me that
too often NT texts have been interpreted without controls..." - J. H. Charlesworth, Jesus and Archaeology (2006) p. 25

"Today scholars agree that 
the science of NT textual criticism is in a state of flux..." Daily Bible (2005), p. xii


"Virtually all scholars agree that 
1 Corinthians 15:3ff. records an ancient oral tradition..." G.R. Habermas, The Risen and Future Hope (2003), p.17

"most scholars would agree that 
some of these disciples, probably while still living, considered him to be the Jewish Messiah..." (- 2x)  B. Ehrman, Lost Christianities (2005) p.96 


"Scholars agree that 
Acts can and should be read as an expression of early Christian theology..." ("scholars agree.." - 5x in one paragraph!) M. Powell, What are They Saying about Acts? (1991) p. 108

"most scholars agree that 
the Pastoral Epistles (1/2 Tim, Titus) are highly unlikely to have been written by Paul.." D. Horrell, An Intro. to Study of Paul () p.125

"most scholars agree that 
 [John, 1 2 3 Jn] came from the same author..."J. Efird, The NT Writings (1980) p. 189


"most modern scholars are in substantial agreement 
as to the defects of the received text and the weight of the older authorities." - Encycl. Britt. Vol.10 (1889) p.37

"textual critics...universally acknowledge 
the supremacy of earlier manuscripts over later ones." - Tyndale Bible dictionary (2001) p. 195

"Most scholars agree that 
the book of Daniel is pseudographic...",  VanderKam, Flint, Meaning of the DSS, (2005), p. 202

"Text-critics now agree 
upon an African, a European and an Italian type of [Latin] text." - Catholic Encycl. (1934) Vol. 9, p. 632


"Most scholars agree that at some point - 
after the Gutenberg Bible was printed?  after the Renaisance? -  believers started taking the Bible as factual, literal truth, And ..this spawned the dualing worldviews of modernism and fundamentalism." A. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically (2007), p. 336

"Most scholars agree with the decision 
to leave the passages out of the Bible because they are so disturbing that they could scare many people away from reading the book."  G. Morehead, Weekly World News, Jun 3 (1997) p.

These are just samples, but instructive on the wide range of notions that writers will assign to the nebulous and perpetually unidentifiable group called "most scholars".


Saturday, February 26, 2011

...When "most scholars agree..." at an appalling rate!

One of the most annoying and inaccurate statements that regularly appear in textual criticism articles is the infamous "most scholars agree..", usually activated when an argument or claim would otherwise appear weak and probably suspect.

Until now however, we haven't had a quantitative way of measuring the relative frequency of this phrase, and therefore gauge its true value and semantic content.

Well thats all over now, with "Google Ngram Viewer", which lets one search and chart the relative frequency of any phrase, searching the literature spanning over 100 years, which has been digitized or scanned.

First we searched the following related phrases:

(1) "Most scholars agree..." 
(2) "All scholars agree..."
(3) "proven beyond reasonable doubt..." (the control phrase).
click to enlarge

As expected, "ALL scholars agree" is less frequent than "MOST scholars agree...".

What is of course disturbing is that nonetheless, the phrase "MOST scholars agree..." has obviously shot through the roof, beginning oddly with the advent of Hort's Greek NT and the infamous Revised Version of 1882.

But someone might object, "yes, but there are more publications now than ever before."   But this is a false objection.  Our control-phrase, "proven beyond reasonable doubt" is a phrase expected to increase dramatically over the last few decades, because of the obvious increase in both court-cases and the publicizing of same (media frenzy), along with human rights issues, and the multiplication of legal arguments, cases, and lawyers writing on this subject and using this phrase.   But, the relative frequency of this word has only gone up moderately, as is to be expected, even though the volume of legal writing is vastly larger than writings about textual criticism.

Someone might say, yes, but there could be a divergence in both the quantity and rate of change between legal documents and textual critical articles.  So we ran the test again using another textual critical phrase, expected to increase with the same frequency:

(1) "Most scholars agree..."
(2) "oldest and best manuscripts"

We can be sure now, that "oldest and best manuscripts" is a great test-gauge of the actual expected increase of such scholarly phrases, because it has increased in usage an immense amount, due to its appearance on just about every second page of every "modern version" of the NT published since 1950.    This phrase has gone from the obscure backwaters of textual criticism of the 19th century to the lips of just about every Christian in North America who reads the Bible, one of the largest "captive book audiences" known.   Surprisingly, the phrase actually goes down in the literature, showing that scholars and popular writers are quite hesitant to use it, in spite of knowing it very well.

At the same time, it shows quite clearly that our real phrase of interest, "Most scholars agree..." has been multiplied exponentially and beyond belief, spiraling completely out of control in what can only be described as a hysterical fashion.

Is this just bad writing?   Or an 'easy way' for modern authors to artificially increase the strength of their polemic and apologetic claims?   The use of this phrase can hardly be being used unknowingly or unconsciously.  Its a standard weapon in propaganda and debate.   What this really shows is an appalling collapse in honesty in scholarly writing, and a ridiculous increase in absurd and inappropriate debating technique.

As a final control-test, we have plotted two synonymous phrases side by side, with near-identical results:

(1) "most scholars agree..." 
(2) "most experts agree..."

The result is predictable:  the two phrases are used and abused interchangeably, with about the same appalling exponential increase in frequency.   So much for 'scientific method' showing an overall improvement in accuracy and honesty.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Codex Alexandrinus (pt.2) - historical dating of text

We turn to the recent and succinct discussion of the dating of Alexandrinus by Dr. Juan Hernandez for the key historical points, which date the manuscript independently of palaeographic considerations, and actually help date the palaeographic features more precisely (hard historical evidence has precedence and power over the more tentative and subjective considerations of handwriting).
'As with Codex Sinaiticus, little doubt surrounds the date of Alexandrinus.  Kenyon, followed by the overwhelming majority of textual critics, dated the MS to the first half of the 5th century. (15)  Since the codex contains the works of Eusebius (d. 340 A.D.) and Athanasius (d. 373 A.D.) it cannot be dated any earlier than the 2nd half of the 4th century.  (16)  A date in the first half of the 5th century, however, allows enough time for the works of Eusebius and Athanasius to attain the authoritative status necessary for their inclusion in a biblical MS. (17)  To place the terminus ad quem of Alexandrinus later than the 5th century, however, is "to ignore the evident signs of age and primitive simplicity which it bears in comparison with other Uncial MSS." (18)

15. Kenyon, Codex Alexandrinus, 8.
16.  Specifically, we have Athanasius' Epistle to Marcellinus on the Psalms.  We also have Eusebius of Caesarea's Hypotheses (i.e. table of contents) of the Psalms, and his Canons of the Morning and Evening Psalms that precede the Psalter (including Psalm 151).  Fourteen liturgical canticles also follow the Psalter.  See T.C. Skeat, The Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Alexandrinus (2nd. ed. Oxford U. Press, 1955), p. 35.
17. Skeat, Codex Sinaiticus, 36.
18. Kenyon, Codex Alexandrinus, 8.

Juan Hernandez, Scribal Habits and theological influences in the Apocalypse: the singular readings of Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, and Ephraemi (MS, 2006)
 This information places Alexandrinus later than the time Jerome was translating the NT for the Vulgate (c. 392 A.D.).   This will be important, when we later consider other manuscripts with the same palaeographic features.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Codex Alexandrinus - palaeographic dating of the text

The Catholic Encyclopedia (Vol.IV, 1908) tells us:
"The manuscript is written in uncial characters in a hand at once firm, elegant, simple; the greater part of Volume III is ascribed by Gregory to a different hand from that of the others; two hands are discerned in the New Testament by Woide, three by Sir E. Maunde Thompson and Kenyon -- experts differ on these points. 
The handwriting is generally judged to belong to the beginning or middle of the 5th century or possibly to the late 4th." (Article - John Francis Fenion)
This much is generally agreed upon, with a nominal date set at about 440 A.D. or later.  Why is this important?  Because dating the calligraphic style of Alexandrinus will have a significant impact on dating other manuscripts.

Other grounds for dating Alexandrinus will be considered later.  Our interest is in the handwriting style and layout, standardized practices that extend across regions and change over time, helping to define the history of the calligraphic appearance of all manuscripts made at various times.

Since several hands  have been discerned, it is worth our while to look at the appearance of various parts of the manuscript.

Matthew (folio GA-02-002a [NT])
Click for Enlarged view - use backbutton to get back

 Mark (GA-02-0021a)

From the pictures we can see an artistic style involving enlarged first letters of paragraphs or verses, with the Ammonian Sections and Eusebian Canons (marginal notes and titles) working around this technique.  The purpose of the enlargements is to make it easier to locate places in the text and make the manuscript more pleasant to look at in practical (ecclesiastical) use.  This practice of enlarging and "outsetting" the first letter of a line completely is a later practice, and can help date the manuscript, providing a "no earlier than" cut-off point for this and similar texts.

Other more ancient and longstanding practices are visible in these samples, such as the shrinking of final letters to fit syllables on a line.   Although an attempt is made here to keep the right margin of each column tidy as well as the left, one can say that this manuscript would be classed as "left-justified" rather than "fully justified" in layout.  It is however far closer to the full-justification styles of Codex Vaticanus and Sinaiticus than it is to the wild right margin of Codex Bezae.   These features are less important then than other features for dating the manuscript more precisely.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

MS Making, fact and myth

James Snapp Jr. Has recently posted some useful information on MS making in his review of White's debate with Moorman
...(15) White said that for the first 300 years of the church’s existence,
“You couldn’t go to the rich people to have nice manuscript copies made at that particular point in time. And so they would use these abbreviations for, like, God, Jesus, Spirit, common words — they would abbreviate them as one or two letters and put a line over the top of them.”
In real life, the Roman persecution was not constant, and although most Christians, like most inhabitants of the Roman Empire, had neither the ability to make books or to read them, some Christians did have rich friends, and had nice manuscript copies made during that time. For proof, just read what Eusebius says about Origen in Ecclesiastical History, Book 6, ch. 23, describing what occurred in about 217-230:
“At that time Origen began his commentaries on the Divine Scriptures, being urged thereto by Ambrose, who employed innumerable incentives, not only exhorting him by word, but also furnishing abundant means. For he dictated to more than seven amanuenses [i.e., secretaries], who relieved each other at appointed times. And he employed no fewer copyists, besides girls who were skilled in elegant writing. For all these Ambrose furnished the necessary expense in abundance.”
That does not resemble the picture painted by White. His idea that the nomina sacra were developed by poor copyists who were trying to conserve writing-materials is fiction."

This view fits nicely in with the other two posts here discussion MS making.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Reviews of Houghton and 4th century MS production

H. A. G. Houghton. Augustine’s Text of John. Patristic Citations and Latin Gospel Manuscripts. Oxford: OUP, 2008. (13.8×21.6), 424 p. ISBN 978-0-19-954592-6. Hardback.

The first review we quote below gives us some enlightening gems of information rarely discussed in TC circles, as to practices and options regarding book production and Scripture care and stewardship;

J. Cornelia Linde  

"The following chapter, ‘The Use of the Bible and the Production of Books in the Time of Augustine’, is an insightful and, again, well documented discussion of the production and diffusion of biblical texts in Augustine’s time, based for the most part on examples from Augustine’s writings.
Houghton points out several noteworthy facts. So, for instance, that manuscripts of Scripture were on sale on the open market, and that churches had their own copyists and secretaries, who would usually produce books to order (p. 24) by sending a scribe in situ to transcribe a text. A side aspect, yet all the same fascinating, was the description of how minutes at council proceedings were produced by stenographers, then copied and signed by the participants (p. 28). In addition, Hugh provides some insight into questions of liturgy in churches around the year 400, especially with regard to the role of the lectores, who were responsible for both their church’s scriptural books, which they usually kept at home (p. 22), and reading the lecture at mass. A point that was not addressed by Houghton is that the lectores (p. 22, n. 2) were often children and the consequences resulting from this fact for their role. Houghton does not mention their age and whether we can assume that children were entrusted with manuscripts and their safekeeping."

First Review quoted above  <- - Click here.

The second review discusses Augustine's use of Old Latin texts and his later adoption of Jerome's Vulgate, as well as quotations from memory.  The discussion is rather complex but persistence pays off in understanding some of the difficult features of any analysis of patristic sources.

Discussion of Patristic Citation  <- - Click here.

The author himself responds to these reviews with a wonderful discussion about how ancient writers like Augustine determined their texts:

"The nature of the Old Latin Bible
Cornelia asked several times about the versions of the Bible Augustine used and which texts had official sanction. Part of this is to do with the nature of the earliest Latin translations: Augustine claims in De doctrina christiana that, as I translate, anyone “who believed himself to have a modicum of ability in both [Latin and Greek] … hazarded his own translation”. In reality, surviving Old Latin versions are a lot more consistent than is often claimed, and, what we seem to have are successive revisions of a limited number of early translations.
Yet the concept of versions is bound up in the wider issue of using early manuscripts for the text of the Bible. Every manuscript is different, and therefore every Bible is different. For example, a Christian community might have been using scriptural codices which did not include the story of the woman taken in adultery, or claimed that Barnabas, not Barabbas, was set free instead of Jesus, or even had that famous alternative reading in the Ten Commandments “Thou shalt commit adultery”. This would not have made any difference to the way the manuscript was used in the liturgy, or revered as sacred scripture. Clearly, more obvious copying errors would usually have been corrected pretty quickly, but plenty have been left to stand! Augustine’s comparison of manuscripts was a standard preliminary stage in working with a text [see page 18 on reading practices in antiquity], just like modern scholars should ascertain whether they are using a current edition of a work, or whether there is a corrected second edition or important subsequent material which needs to be taken into consideration.
In fact, I suspect that modern attitudes to “the Bible” even after the invention of printing are not so different to those in the time of Augustine. ...Even if you take a printed Latin Vulgate or an edition of the Greek text as your archetypical “Bible”, you still have to specify which edition. None are entirely identical, and among modern translations – as with the Old Latin tradition – it can be very difficult to specify when a text is sufficiently different that it constitutes a new version rather than a variant form or light revision of an earlier version.
In the light of this, I would like to suggest that authority is co-located in an overall concept of Scripture and the individual exemplars which one uses for one’s text. When Augustine says “it is written in the Bible”, how would he prove it? In the same way as he challenges his opponents in the dialogues, by inviting them to bring him a manuscript with that reading [e.g. Contra Faustum (p.18-19)]. And if they could, he then goes on to outline his text-critical criteria for evaluating that witness: how old is the manuscript? Is it accurate elsewhere? How does it correspond to Greek manuscripts?"

Author's Response  <- - - Click Here.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Codex B & Mark's Ending Revisited

James Snapp Jr. informs us on his webpage discussing Vaticanus that, if an ending were added to the MS,
"The subscription would thus be in the lower margin, but this occurs in two other places in the codex (at the end of Luke and at the end of Philippians); the copyist did not see that as a problem."
The Ending of Luke, with 'subscription' (Scribal Signature) shown below, reaching below the bottom margin:

Codex Vaticanus: Luke's Ending - Click to Enlarge
Likewise, the 'subscription' at the end of Philippians also extends below the line, showing that the Scribe did not have much concern for this issue.

Codex VaticanusEnding of Philippians