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Advice: The Bible and Textual Criticism

22 posts in this topic

Posted

I am an individual in search of the Truth and with a vague belief in some form of possibly higher being. I started my search last year with Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman and was introduced to textual critics and their quest to reconstruct the original manuscripts that eventually became the Christian bible.

Quick Reference: Textual Criticism a branch of literary criticism that is concerned with the identification and removal of transcription errors in the texts of manuscripts.

My concern, as Mr. Ehrman's was, is that even if given a belief in God and a belief in the Divine dictation of the Bible, how can I trust a book that has been hand copied time and again? A controversial book that has been transcribed by hands of different beliefs and interpretations? While the inspiration for the words may have been divine, how do I know that, through the years, man has not screwed something up? Or changed something all together?

Mr. Ehrman's book didn't help much. He confirmed that there were plenty of examples of transcription errors, as well as purposeful additions and subtractions, from the traveling manuscripts before the printing press (and standardization) became available. Even more disconcerting (though not the least bit surprising), the original manuscripts, their copies, and their copies' copies (etc...) are long gone.

How can I place my faith in a book like that?

In keeping with my own family's tradition, however, procrastination prevented me from finishing the book, and I have lost it in between three separate moves in the past year. (It's been a hectic life.)

I submit to you the following:

What can you add to a discussion on the authenticity of the Bible?

What is your take (opinion?) on trusting it dispite it's many errors? (I should really find some examples of these to give you something more concrete than "There are errors, honest!" But right now, it is late and I have an early morning tomorrow...)

Are there any textual critics out there who can shed some light on textual criticism, it's application to the Bible, and whether or not Mr. Bart D. Ehrman is full of hot air?

Note: I am approaching the Bible with the assumption that I believe it was divinely inspired. I've not made up my mind on the matter, but I'm trying to explore new things. Feel free to take that point of view or leave it.

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Posted

My concern, as Mr. Ehrman's was, is that even if given a belief in God and a belief in the Divine dictation of the Bible, how can I trust a book that has been hand copied time and again? A controversial book that has been transcribed by hands of different beliefs and interpretations? While the inspiration for the words may have been divine, how do I know that, through the years, man has not screwed something up? Or changed something all together?

If the Bible were divinely inspired, then the words used to convey the experienced inspiration would have been selected by the human authors, and this would mean that the Bible offers you no more than the opportunity to interpret the meaning which the human authors (based on their own experiences) were trying to communicate. Such an interpretation would be expected to take into account considerations about possibly relevant (and most often inexplicit) context.

Even if the Bible were (as the Qur'an is supposed to be) a transcript of human-language communication by God, the fact is that human language communicates with a reliance on a context, and that context is rarely explicitly presented by the words which constitute the statements being expressed via the words used.

Therefore, whether the Bible (or the Qur'an or any other similar sort of alleged revelation) is the actual word of God or whether it is inspired by God, "belief " or "trust" in this book in no way delivers one from the burden of having to interpret in order to formulate understanding. And this means that even what could turn out to be misinterpretations on the parts of others can be useful for the furtherance of personal understanding and experience.

How can I place my faith in a book like that?

Religious faith is not faith in a book. Instead, faith is supposed to - certainly in the case of Christianity - pertain to God, and this faith is not a matter of belief in either God or a book. Faith entails a personal responsibility which is other than participation in, or acceptance of, any already present or inherited tradition. Ultimately, faith does not pertain to a leap; rather, it pertains to understanding and experience, and the understanding which can both derive from experience (of being alive) and also direct further experience (of being alive) need never even be expressed in terms of God in order to be a Godly faith. This is because faith is about becoming and not about speaking.

What can you add to a discussion on the authenticity of the Bible?

What is your take (opinion?) on trusting it dispite it's many errors?

At an instance of complete compatibility with Christianity, the Qur'an insists that God is closer to you than is your own jugular; so, do not look to any book without also looking within yourself. If you want to start with passages which have been changed, then consider how the intended meaning would have been changed, and then consider why someone might have wanted to "improve" on what had been presented. If you discover significance in any of these meanings, then consider how you yourself would take such meanings to heart to express them in and as your own self rather than by merely verbal assent.

Michael

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Posted

If you want to start with passages which have been changed, then consider how the intended meaning would have been changed, and then consider why someone might have wanted to "improve" on what had been presented. If you discover significance in any of these meanings, then consider how you yourself would take such meanings to heart to express them in and as your own self rather than by merely verbal assent.

Unfortunately, I do not have the knowledge necessary to under-take such an endeavor, because I am on a fact-finding mission rather than a faith-finding mission. I suppose the best comparison I can make is that I'm more like a historian trying to ensure the legitimacy of a particular source. My concern is that, given it is the only primary source I have available to me, I have no option but to rely on it, but it's not a "true" primary source - it's an altered / error-riddled copy of the primary source.

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Posted

Unfortunately, I do not have the knowledge necessary to under-take such an endeavor, because I am on a fact-finding mission rather than a faith-finding mission. I suppose the best comparison I can make is that I'm more like a historian trying to ensure the legitimacy of a particular source. My concern is that, given it is the only primary source I have available to me, I have no option but to rely on it, but it's not a "true" primary source - it's an altered / error-riddled copy of the primary source.

What "facts" are you seeking? Are they facts for which experience, expression, interpretation, and meaning are irrelevant? If such factors are presumed to be irrelevant, then the matters of trust and belief which you initially discussed are also irrelevant, and what you seek are not "religious" facts which, after all, entail much more than text. It seems pretty safe to conclude that the "fact-finding mission" at hand is not concerned with facts about faith; so, again, what was the initial point about trust and belief?

Michael

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Posted

The Bible, assuming that belief in the Christian God is True, is a history book. I want to know what story that history book is trying to tell. But, as in all histories, what you read today may not necessarily be what really happened (the winner writes the history and all that...). The Bible is so old and has been re-written so many times, that what we hold in our hands today is a text that has been re-written and altered by many different people with many different preferences on how the history should be told, how they believe it actually went down, or perhaps even lies based on what they believed people should be taught.

The whole point of all of this is to find the original story. I don't care to learn about how other people felt about the story. I want to know what that first story was.

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Posted

Elys, you may be reading too much into the bible by importing modern ideas about truth and facts and superimposing them onto a mytho-poetic text.

In other words, our ideas about truth, science, history do not date further back than the 17th century. I will post more later.

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Posted

Elys, you say you want to know what that first story was!? I am not attempting to put you down and ridicule you, but that question, dare I say, is the question which all of us are attempting to answer, whether it be here in this philosophy website, when we go to church (if we do), or simply sit on our own and look at the stars in the night sky! My problem is that when I attempt to share my doubts with friends, family, regular church goers and in the more abusive websites that I occasionally frequent (not this one!) they all seem to know so much more than me!

To be more specific, you seem to be asking about the Word of God? After many years of thoughtful (hopefully!) deliberation, as well as experiencing what I thought was some sort of revelatory experience (comparable to C S. Lewis's, but nowhere near as intellectually sophisticated!) I have decided that the written word in the Bible, is, as you so aptly describe, the word of man, translated and transcribed so many times that we begin to wonder just what it is that we believe in!

Being a committed Christian, I do have faith in the Bible, but I moderate that faith with my acknowledgement that it is only the musings of man. I therefore read the Bible (as a Christian), and I do not really have a favourite english version but "The Good News Bible" serves me well, in my search for the Word of God. Notice now my use of a capital "W" (and earlier) to distinguish this from what I read in my preferred versions. That is, my search for the "Word" is a spiritual search, and has little to do with the written words I read. However, believing that the Bible was inspired by God, I feel that this has to be my ultimate resource as I read the opinions and interpretations of so many others. The mere musings of man it may well be, but historically it has been fashioned to help us reach out to God through the written word. Bible study is not to be taken lightly, I think, but I am no literalist!

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Posted

I'll add my comments about logos and mythos later, but for now, this excerpt from a friend of mine who's a theologian that graduated from Fuller Seminary. It is about the origins of the bible according to his studies and research:

The Old Testament was originally compiled by the ruling class of the Hasmonean dynasty, which began with the rededication of the Temple at Jerusalem in 164 BC, after they defeated Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek ruler of Palestine, and ended with the Romans' annexation of Palestine in 67BC. This is also the origin of the Hanukkah. The Hasmonean Jews were akin to the modern day hardcore fundamentalists like the Taliban or your garden variety Southeast Baptist.

Since they never were a great nation like Egypt, Babylon, Persia or Greece of lore, the Hasmonean Jews were motivated to develop a divine justification for their self-centered ethnicity and a vision of greatness. The fact is, all the archaeological evidence points to a small indigenous Canaanite tribe, a local population of herders who settled in the hill country and became farmers after the economic collapse of the Canaanite cities at the end of the Late Bronze Age. No migration of Abraham, no enslavement in Egypt, no escape, no conquest of Canaan. No walls of Jericho, an old ruin even back then. They never ruled independently until Judas Macabees led the revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes in 165BC. Consequently, all the major characters of the Old Testament are fictional. You will not find a corresponding reference of Moses leading the slaves in Egypt in extra-biblical historical record, nor the remnants of King David or Solomon's majestic nation.

The same goes for Jesus Christ and the 12 disciples, but the conditions they were invented was different

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Posted

Campanella, do you have a bibliography, reference list, or reading list your friend could supply? Silly as it seems (to me at least), I realize that I never seriously considered the similarities between Jesus and Osiris, even though I was aware of it, lol.

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Posted

I'm curious about those references also, Camp, because I remember something similar getting mentioned in that pseudodocumentaryconspiracymovie Zeitgeist. I just wrote it off to crazy whackjobs being themselves, but since your friend seems reasonable qualified I'm interested in learning more.

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Posted

I was an arabic major in college, with a smattering of Spoken Hebrew, and judging just off what I learned about culture and history in those classes, in addition to my own research, Camp's buddy's synopsis sounds pretty credible. Being more focused on functioning in the cultures and speaking the languages, however, what I know are less facts and more that certain things feel right, similar to how most grammatically correct statements feel more right than their grammatically incorrect counterparts.

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Posted

I thanked Campanella for his interesting and informative post because it challenges my faith, but not because I necessarily agree with all of its implications! I look forward to the post he is suggesting where he will say more about logos and mythos.

Challenges such as this prompt me to delve more deeply into my beliefs, in this case to pursue an enquiry into "The Quest for the Historical Jesus" (A. Schweitzer). It began in earnest, I understand, in the 18th century, as a result of The Enlightenment period. Schweitzer's notable book, published in 1902, more or less brought to an end this search, but recently over the last 20 years, perhaps, modern scholarship has renewed its efforts, and the real existence of such a person as Jesus is again no longer in serious doubt. To quote from Wiki(!?): "Today, historical efforts to construct a biography of Jesus are as strong as ever." The nature of Jesus is, of course, another matter!

I am writing this now as a counterpoint to the later suggestions already made in this thread. It appears that we are throwing question marks against this reality, but reading the thread again I notice that Michael Pearl gives a very succinct commentary on the substance of this thread, that is, I think, the literal words we read in the Bible, and their interpretation. My enquiry concerning the real existence of Jesus may, therefore, be a diversion, but I am continuing the immediate response I presented in my first post here. I became aware of tthe modern search fo the reality of Jesus from Hans Kung. In his "Does God Exist?", when writing about Wittgenstein, he quotes N. Malcolm, who says of W.: "Wittgenstein did not reject the metaphysical; rather he rejected the possibility of 'stating' the metaphysical". Kung continues: "But this means for Wittgenstein that the experience of the mystical cannot be given expression (in words - my observation). And this has devastating consequences for theology and philosophy."

I must continue with Kung: "So radical is Wittgenstein: 'Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent.' This last proposition of the 'Tractatus' holds also for the treaty itself. What remains theoretically for the 'problems of life' - and this must be clearly recognised - is speechlessness. And - in this respect like Albert Schweitzer after the negative quest for the historical Jesus - Wittgenstein drew from this fact the surprising conclusion that he had to devote himself no longer to philosophical theory but to a life of practical work. ... "

My efforts here are totally amateurish! I am no professional theologian not philosopher, but I hope that my engagement in these "esteemed" (DeadCanDance's adjective) fora are not totally without substance!

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Posted

Campanella, do you have a bibliography, reference list, or reading list your friend could supply? Silly as it seems (to me at least), I realize that I never seriously considered the similarities between Jesus and Osiris, even though I was aware of it, lol.

That's only fair to ask, Elys. :)

I've contacted my friend, who is a hard person to get a hold of. Currently, my esteemed intellectual peer is putting together a bibliography for your scrutiny. I've known this radical thinker since 2002, and by virtue of our 8/9 hour chats I've revised my old positions (militant atheism, epistemological dogmatist, etc.). He's a reclusive novelist on the verge of publication.

As for mythos and logos, I learned this useful distinction from the scholar Karen Armstrong. They are two complementary modes of discourse that we developed from antiquity. They each served different functions: mythos was taken to be primary and was about the timeless aspects of human existence. Logos, on the other hand, was the rational, the pragmatic, and the scientific aspect of discourse.

Read this for further explanation: My blog on mythos and logos.

The problem with modernity is that our mode of discourse has atrophied, where what used to be complementary has now become dominant, and the other has shrunk to irrelevance. Those rejecting the tenets of science turn to religion but they cannot return to the older mode of discourse, so their interpretation is a bastardization (literal reading of the scriptures, attempt to justify the scriptures in a scientific manner, etc). We can't go home again, but neither can we pretend that logos can suffice for all aspects of humanity. It's limited to the practical sphere. This is probably why philosophy resorts to myth and allegories when it attempts to perform the functions of mythos.

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Posted

I must read your blog again and again before I dare to respond!

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Posted

As I understand it then, Campanella, (and I stand to be corrected as I am swimming in deep water as usual!), my ideas concerning God's Word are related to mythos, and the words we read in the Bible are related to logos? I am most impressed with your blog, it really needs reading by all Bible study groups, especially those of a fundamentalist leaning.

However, quite recently the Pope (actually just before he became Pope, apparently) made a pronouncement identifying Chrisitianity as "the religion of the 'Logos'"!, and here I do find myself in some agreement, which therefore might put me into a little confusion. Translated as "God's Word", in my terms, I am in full agreement. But does this draw in the suggestion that Christianity is a 'revealed' religion, whereas others are 'mystical'?

I appreciate I have now mentioned mysticism rather than mythology, but as I study the Bible I am profoundly drawn into the idea that God is attempting to reveal Himself to me through the words I read. I am not an avid student of the Bible, often finding it a bit of a boring read, but I am most interested in the interpretations and views of others who have. The intricacies of its structure, its prophecies and yes, its poetry and myth, are fascinating to me, and lead me to believe that it must be divinely inspired. Not least, of course, its popularity and its perenniality.

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Posted

As I understand it then, Campanella, (and I stand to be corrected as I am swimming in deep water as usual!), my ideas concerning God's Word are related to mythos, and the words we read in the Bible are related to logos?

Well, not exactly. The bible was written in the pre-modern world, where logos and mythos were complementary. We no longer have the mythos discourse today, except for remnants in art (poetry, music, fictional narratives in literature and flim). By the 18th century, the Age of Reason, the success of science and technology has discounted mythos as false, and established logos as the only method of truth. Reading the bible literally, via the logos method, clearly misses the point.

For example, millennial movement leaders like William Miller tried to prove with calculations that the Second Coming of Christ would take place in 1843. He read the bible in a modern way: instead of reading it as a mythical and symbolic account of eternal realities, he presupposed that the narratives of the Book of Revelation were predictions of future events that could be estimated with mathematical precision. Sure enough, when Jesus failed to show up, the followers were disappointed. However, they didn't give up. The eschatological timetable was adjusted, and the return date became open-ended . :banghead:

This should caution us from trying to interpret the mythoi of the bible in a factual way. Mythical language cannot be translated into rational language without distorting its original raison d'etre. Similar to poetry, the meaning of mythical language is far too elusive to be expressed in a different way.

I am most impressed with your blog, it really needs reading by all Bible study groups, especially those of a fundamentalist leaning.

Thanks. :) They may not thank you for introducing such a heretical distinction, though!

However, quite recently the Pope (actually just before he became Pope, apparently) made a pronouncement identifying Chrisitianity as "the religion of the 'Logos'"!, and here I do find myself in some agreement, which therefore might put me into a little confusion. Translated as "God's Word", in my terms, I am in full agreement. But does this draw in the suggestion that Christianity is a 'revealed' religion, whereas others are 'mystical'?

The Pope is using the term "logos" in a different way, different from the archaic Greek use of the term. Philo of Alexandria married logos with Hebraic ideas, in which logos became the immaterial instrument and even the personal agency through which God exerts upon the world. In Christian theology, logos is the 2nd person of the trinity, and its functions are identified with the acts of Jesus Christ.

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Posted

Okay! Finally read the blog post, lol. (It's been a busy couple of weeks.)

Question: based on what you wrote, Mr. Camp, would you say that those who compiled the Bible and battled over the Council of Nicea were looking at the Bible as Logos rather than Mythos? And these debates sprung up relatively soon after the death of Jesus Christ, yeah? Wouldn't that suggest that, from its inception, the Christian scripture was taken more literally than metaphorically?

[EDITED for grammar]

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Posted

Perhaps Karen Armstrong's own words may succeed where I failed:

Link

In short: Belief is a historical term and to project it onto pre-modern cultures commits the anachronistic fallacy.

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Posted

In demanding pistis[/i'], therefore, Jesus was asking for commitment not credulity: people must give everything to the poor, follow him to the end, and commit totally to the coming Kingdom.

But wouldn't a commitment to a coming Kingdom imply a belief in that Kingdom, and, therefore, a logos type knowledge of a physical place?

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Posted

Campanella-

Well, not exactly. The bible was written in the pre-modern world, where logos and mythos were complementary. We no longer have the mythos discourse today, except for remnants in art (poetry, music, fictional narratives in literature and flim). By the 18th century, the Age of Reason, the success of science and technology has discounted mythos as false, and established logos as the only method of truth. Reading the bible literally, via the logos method, clearly misses the point.

So is Logos and Mythos no longer compatible? Can we read with Mythos or is the fact that we were born after the "Age of Reason" make this impossible?

As for the arguments by the Theologian

The Old Testament was originally compiled by the ruling class of the Hasmonean dynasty, which began with the rededication of the Temple at Jerusalem in 164 BC, after they defeated Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek ruler of Palestine, and ended with the Romans' annexation of Palestine in 67BC. This is also the origin of the Hanukkah. The Hasmonean Jews were akin to the modern day hardcore fundamentalists like the Taliban or your garden variety Southeast Baptist.

The earliest version is the Greek translation made in Egypt in the third and second centuries B.C. It was designed to meet the needs of Greek-speaking Jews after the dispersion of the Jews following on the conquests of Alexander the Great (who died in 323 B.C.). According to tradition the Pentateuch was translated by seventy-two elders, six from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, and so the Greek version of the Old Testament came to be called the Septuagint, from the Latin septuaginta, 'seventy'.

http://www.bible-researcher.com/driver1.html

Since they never were a great nation like Egypt, Babylon, Persia or Greece of lore, the Hasmonean Jews were motivated to develop a divine justification for their self-centered ethnicity and a vision of greatness. The fact is, all the archaeological evidence points to a small indigenous Canaanite tribe, a local population of herders who settled in the hill country and became farmers after the economic collapse of the Canaanite cities at the end of the Late Bronze Age. No migration of Abraham, no enslavement in Egypt, no escape, no conquest of Canaan. No walls of Jericho, an old ruin even back then. They never ruled independently until Judas Macabees led the revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes in 165BC. Consequently, all the major characters of the Old Testament are fictional. You will not find a corresponding reference of Moses leading the slaves in Egypt in extra-biblical historical record, nor the remnants of King David or Solomon's majestic nation.

Abraham-

1)Abraham's name appears in Babylonia as a personal name at the very period of the patriarchs, though the critics believed he was a fictitious character who was redacted back by the later Israelites.

2) The field of Abram in Hebron is mentioned in 918 B.C., by the Pharaoh Shishak of Egypt (now also believed to be Ramases II). He had just finished warring in Palestine and inscribed on the walls of his temple at Karnak the name of the great patriarch, proving that even at this early date Abraham was known not in Arabia, as Muslims contend, but in Palestine, the land the Bible places him.

3) The Beni Hasan Tomb from the Abrahamic period, depicts Asiatics coming to Egypt during a famine, corresponding with the Biblical account of the plight of the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob'.

G.E. Wright states,"We shall probably never prove that Abram really existed...but what we can prove is that his life and times, as reflected in the stories about him, fit perfectly within the early second millennium, but imperfectly within any later period."

Israelites + Moses -

Another new and exciting archaeological research is that which has been carried out by the British Egyptologist, David Rohl. Until a few years ago we only had archaeological evidence for the Patriarchal, Davidic and New Testament periods, but little to none for the Mosaic period. Yet one would expect much data on this period due to the cataclysmic events which occurred during that time. David Rohl (in A Test of Time) has given us a possible reason why, and it is rather simple. It seems that we have simply been off in our dates by almost 300 years! By redating the Pharonic lists in Egypt he has been able to now identify the abandoned city of the Israelite slaves (called Avaris), the death pits from the tenth plague, and Joseph's original tomb and home. There remain many 'tells' yet to uncover.

Jericho-

Jericho's excavation showed that the walls fell outwards, echoing Joshua 6:20, enabling the attackers to climb over and into the town. Yet according to the laws of physics, walls of towns always fall inwards! A later redactor would certainly have not made such an obvious mistake, unless he was an eyewitness, as Joshua was.

http://debate.org.uk/topics/history/bib-qur/bibarch.htm

The answers to the rest of the post are coming....

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