The systemic errancy problem of the scribes of Antiquity
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15-08-2015, 10:46 AM (This post was last modified: 16-08-2015 08:58 AM by goodwithoutgod.)
The systemic errancy problem of the scribes of Antiquity
The systemic errancy problem of the scribes

TL : DR version: Transcribing and copying ancient texts was an inaccurate process.


In the ancient times consisting of the era around the formation of the New Testament, events were recorded in written form several ways. The elite and powerful were of course educated in the arts, philosophy, and written form. However, most of them would not have written things down by their hand, but spoken them to a scribe. This scribe would have been educated in one of the several versions (a spectrum going from book hand, chancery hand, to documentary hand) of literary style usually by apprenticeship to a master craftsman. They would typically sign an obligatory two-year contract to learn shorthand for example. The elite also pressed slave scribes into service. The various churches had members that would write down teachings, oral tradition and were also copyist of other written material. This is why there are hundreds of thousands of minute differences amongst copies of copies of copies throughout this time.

There also existed literate historians like Philo of Alexandria, for example, who would travel around an area and record all noteworthy events. Some copyists (especially the uneducated slaves) were not even literate, but would simply copy down the symbols over and over. This is way before the printing press, after all, and the only way you can get your books or writings copied for others to enjoy was to have a copyist hand scribe it letter by letter. Of course, the cheapest form of this was slave scribes, which may explain the massive amounts of errors throughout copies of ancient writings.

These minute differences are usually of no real significance, and a cross spectrum comparison can usually identify the “typos”. Some of the differences are simply just accidental mistakes, although we can never be certain if the changes were intentional or not. At the end of the day, scribes and copyists of all calibers were human and prone to make mistakes. This was a slow, tedious, and painstaking process. The majority of scribes who endeavored under their masters hand most likely did not have a vested interest in the accuracy of their work. The scribes would inevitably make alterations in those texts, changing the words they copied either by accident or by design. This was such a systemic problem that it was constantly mentioned in the writings of ancient historians, and philosophers. In a famous essay on the problem of anger, the Roman philosopher Seneca points out that there is a difference between anger directed at what has caused us harm and anger at what can do nothing to hurt us. To illustrate the latter category he mentions “certain inanimate things, such as the manuscript which we often hurl from us because it is written in too small a script or tear up because it is so full of mistakes.”. Another example from the Roman poet Martial, “if any poems in those sheets, reader, seem to you either too obscure or not quite good Latin, not mine is the mistake: the copyist spoiled them in his haste to complete for you his tale of verses”.

In the churches, the early Christian texts were not being copied by professional scribes, at least in the first two or three centuries of the church, but simply by educated members of the Christian congregations who could do the job and were willing to do so, and inevitably this resulted in many transcriptional mistakes. This is not conjecture, as we have solid evidence that this was the case, as it was a matter of occasional complaint by Christians reading those texts and trying to uncover the original words of their authors. For example, the third-century church father Origen once registered the following complaint about the copies of the Gospels at his disposal: “the differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please”.

Some 70 years earlier, Celsus in his attack on Christianity and its literature, pointed out that, “some believers, as though from a drinking bout, go so far as to oppose themselves and alter the original text of the gospel three or four or several times over, and change its character to enable them to deny difficulties in face of criticism” (Against Celsus, Origen, 2.27). Celsus was a pagan opponent of Christianity who lived in the late second century and authored a book called The True Word, in which he attacked Christianity on a number of grounds, arguing that it was a foolish, dangerous religion that should be wiped off the face of the earth. 70 years later Origen wrote a book called Against Celsus to answer the criticism. There is not an intact copy of Celsus’s book to be found, but because Origen quoted the book so much in his work, we can reconstruct with fair accuracy Celsus’s claims. Overall Origen posited that true Christian believers are in fact wise, but they are wise with respect to God, not with respect to things in this world. He did not deny, in other words, that the Christian community at the time was largely made up of lower, uneducated classes, whose work on literary matters was understandably inaccurate.

This inaccuracy problem was so prevalent, that mention of it is even seen within the Bible itself. In the book of revelations, the author near the end of this text, utters a dire warning, “I testify to everyone who hears the word of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book: and if anyone removes any of the words of the book of this prophecy, God will remove his share from the tree of life and from the holy city, as described in this book” (revelations 22:18 – 19). This was obviously not a threat intended towards the reader, but towards the copyists of the book.

We see this yet again as indicated by the rather severe threats uttered by the Latin Christian scholar Rufinus with respect to his translation of one of the Origen’s works, “… Beseech everyone who may either transcribe or read these books, by his belief in the kingdom to come, by the mystery of the resurrection from the dead, and by that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels, that,… He add nothing to what is written and take away nothing from it, and make no insertion or alteration, but that he compare his transcription with the copies which made it”.

Now to be forthright, one must accept that the majority of the changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple… Slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another. Scribes could be quite incompetent, and it is important to recall that most of the copyists in the early centuries were not trained to do this kind of work and were simply the literate members of their congregations who were more or less, able and willing. Regardless, this task could be tedious and frustrating as indicated multiple times by notes occasionally added to manuscripts in which a scribe would pen a kind of sigh of relief, such as “the end of the manuscript. Thanks be to God!”. Another issue was, even in later times like in the fourth and fifth century, when the church scribes were professionally trained, they would make an intentional change, for example, when they came across a passage that appeared to embody a theological mistake that needed to be corrected, possibly a contradiction found in the text, or a mistake in geographical reference, or a misplaced scriptural allusion. These small, minute, changes built one upon the other over time so that we have major changes in key areas down the road.

For example: in Paul’s letter to the Galatians he was writing to one of the churches, or perhaps all of them as Galatia was not a single town but a region ain Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in which Paul had established churches. We presume he meant them all as he did not single out a particular town or church. So that means he had to have copies made of this letter for each church. If he made multiple copies, how did he do it? To begin with, it appears that this letter, like others by Paul, was not written by his hand but was dictated to a secretarial scribe. Evidence for this comes at the end of the letter, where Paul added a postscript in his own handwriting, so that the recipients would know that it was he who was responsible for the letter (a common technique utilized in antiquity for dictated letters). “See with what large letters I am writing you with my own hand” (Galatians 6:11). In other words, his handwriting was larger and probably less professional in appearance than that of the scribe to whom he had dictated the letter. Many questions arise, did Paul dictate the letter word by word, or as a busy person over tasked with many things did he spell out the basic points, and allow the scribe to fill in the rest? Both methods were commonly used by letter writers in antiquity.

Let’s assume that Paul dictated the letter word for word. If so, did he glance over it before making this postscript and signing it? Did he read it word for word to ensure its accuracy? We do not know. Once the copy is in circulation and delivered to its destination in one of the churches in one of the towns, it is of course copied, and further mistakes can potentially be made. These mistake ridden copies get copied, and copied again, and copied again and so on down the line. At some point, the original is lost, worn out, or destroyed. At which point it is no longer possible to compare a copy with the original to make sure it is “correct”. What survives today, then, is not the original copy of the letter, nor one of the first copies that Paul himself had made, nor any of the copies that were produced in any of the towns of Galatia to which the letter was sent, nor any of the copies of those copies. The first reasonable complete copy we have of Galatians, which is fragmentary, has a number of missing parts and is a papyrus called P-46 (the 46th New Testament papyrus to be catalogued) which dates to about 200 CE. That’s approximately 150 years after Paul wrote the letter. It had been in circulation, being sometimes copied correctly and sometimes incorrectly, for 15 decades before any copy was made that survived down to the present day.

Another example, the Gospel of John. In John, the sayings of Jesus are long discourses rather than pithy, direct sayings; Jesus never tells a parable, for example, in John, unlike in the other three Gospels. Moreover, many events narrated in John are often found only in this gospel. For example, Jesus’s alleged conversations with Nicodemus in chapter 3, and with the Samaritan woman in chapter 4, or his miracles of turning water into wine in chapter 2, and raising Lazarus from the dead in Chapter 10. The author of John no doubt has sources for his account, and he put those sources together into his own flowing narrative of the life of Jesus, his ministry, death, and alleged resurrection. Chapter 21 appears to be a later add-on. Other passages of the Gospel of John also did not cohere completely with the rest.

Even the opening verses 1:1 – 18, which form a kind of prologue to the gospel, appear to be different from the rest. The passage is written in a highly poetic style not found in the rest of the gospel; moreover, while its central themes are repeated in the rest of the narrative, some of its most important vocabulary is not. Is it possible that this opening passage came from a different source than the rest of the account, and that it was added as an appropriate beginning by someone other than the author after an earlier edition of the book had already been published and circulated? Perhaps.

The examples are numerous, but the point is since we do not have an original of the New Testament, and all we have to consider are copies, of copies, of copies, of copies, of copies… One would presume an intelligent reader would view them with a critical eye, and a grain of salt.

References:

Tregelles, Samuel P. An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament London. Samuel Bagster & Sons. 1854. Print.

Fox, Adam., Mill, John., & Bentley, Richard. A Study of Textual Criticism of the New Testament, 1675 – 1729 Oxford. Blackwell. 1954. Print.

Metzger and Ehrman. Text of the New Testament Oxford. Oxford University press. 1964. Print.

Ehrman, Bart. Misquoting Jesus: The story behind who changed the bible and why. New York, Harper Collins. 2005. Print.

--------------------------------------------

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15-08-2015, 04:25 PM
RE: The systemic errancy problem of the scribes of Antiquity
(15-08-2015 10:46 AM)goodwithoutgod Wrote:  The systemic errancy problem of the scribes

TL : DR version: Transcribing and copying ancient texts was an inaccurate process.


In the ancient times consisting of the era around the formation of the New Testament, events were recorded in written form several ways. The elite and powerful were of course educated in the arts, philosophy, and written form. However, most of them would not have written things down by their hand, but spoken to a scribe. This scribe would have been educated in one of the several versions (a spectrum going from book hand, chancery hand, to documentary hand) of literary style usually by apprenticeship to a master craftsman. They would typically sign an obligatory two-year contract to learn shorthand for example. The elite also pressed slave scribes into service. The various churches had members that would write down teachings, oral tradition and were also copyist of other written material. This is why there are hundreds of thousands of minute differences amongst copies of copies of copies throughout this time.

There also existed literate historians like Philo of Alexandria, for example, who would travel around an area and record all noteworthy events. Some copyists (especially the uneducated slaves) were not even literate, but would simply copy down the symbols over and over. This is way before the printing press, after all, and the only way you can get your books or writings copied for others to enjoy was to have a copyist's hand scribe it letter by letter. Of course, the cheapest form of this was slave scribes, which may explain the massive amounts of errors throughout copies of ancient writings.

These minute differences are usually of no real significance, and a cross spectrum comparison can usually identify the “typos”. Some of the differences are simply just accidental mistakes, although we can never be certain if the changes were intentional or not. At the end of the day, scribes and copyists of all calibers were human and prone to make mistakes. This was a slow, tedious, and painstaking process. The majority of scribes who endeavored under their masters hand most likely did not have a vested interest in the accuracy of their work. The scribes would inevitably make alterations in those texts, changing the words they copied either by accident or by design. This was such a systemic problem that it was constantly mentioned in the writings of ancient historians, and philosophers. In a famous essay on the problem of anger, the Roman philosopher Seneca points out that there is a difference between anger directed at what has caused us harm and anger at what can do nothing to hurt us. To illustrate the latter category he mentions “certain inanimate things, such as the manuscript which we often hurl from us because it is written in too small a script or tear up because it is so full of mistakes.”. Another example from the Roman poet Martial, “if any poems in those sheets, reader, seem to you either too obscure or not quite good Latin, not mine is the mistake: the copyist spoiled them in his haste to complete for you his tale of verses”.

In the churches, the early Christian texts were not being copied by professional scribes, at least in the first two or three centuries of the church, but simply by educated members of the Christian congregations who could do the job and were willing to do so, and inevitably this resulted in many transcriptional mistakes. This is not conjecture, as we have solid evidence that this was the case, as it was a matter of occasional complaint by Christians reading those texts and trying to uncover the original words of their authors. For example, the third-century church father Origen once registered the following complaint about the copies of the Gospels at his disposal: “the differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please”.

Some 70 years earlier, Celsus in his attack on Christianity and its literature, pointed out that, “some believers, as though from a drinking bout, go so far as to oppose themselves and alter the original text of the gospel three or four or several times over, and change its character to enable them to deny difficulties in face of criticism” (Against Celsus, Origen, 2.27). Celsus was a pagan opponent of Christianity who lived in the late second century and authored a book called The True Word, in which he attacked Christianity on a number of grounds, arguing that it was a foolish, dangerous religion that should be wiped off the face of the earth. 70 years later Origen wrote a book called Against Celsus to answer the criticism. There is not an intact copy of Celsus’s book to be found, but because Origen quoted the book so much in his work, we can reconstruct with fair accuracy Celsus’s claims. Overall Origen posited that true Christian believers are in fact wise, but they are wise with respect to God, not with respect to things in this world. He did not deny, in other words, that the Christian community at the time was largely made up of lower, uneducated classes, whose work on literary matters was understandably inaccurate.

This inaccuracy problem was so prevalent, that mention of it is even seen within the Bible itself. In the book of revelations, the author near the end of this text, utters a dire warning, “I testify to everyone who hears the word of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book: and if anyone removes any of the words of the book of this prophecy, God will remove his share from the tree of life and from the holy city, as described in this book” (revelations 22:18 – 19). This was obviously not a threat intended towards the reader, but towards the copyists of the book.

We see this yet again as indicated by the rather severe threats uttered by the Latin Christian scholar Rufinus with respect to his translation of one of the Origen’s works, “… Beseech everyone who may either transcribe or read these books, by his belief in the kingdom to come, by the mystery of the resurrection from the dead, and by that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels, that,… He add nothing to what is written and take away nothing from it, and make no insertion or alteration, but that he compare his transcription with the copies which made it”.

Now to be forthright, one must accept that the majority of the changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple… Slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another. Scribes could be quite incompetent, and it is important to recall that most of the copyists in the early centuries were not trained to do this kind of work and were simply the literate members of their congregations who were more or less, able and willing. Regardless, this task could be tedious and frustrating as indicated multiple times by notes occasionally added to manuscripts in which a scribe would pen a kind of sigh of relief, such as “the end of the manuscript. Thanks be to God!”. Another issue was, even in later times like in the fourth and fifth century, when the church scribes were professionally trained, they would make an intentional change, for example, when they came across a passage that appeared to embody a theological mistake that needed to be corrected, possibly a contradiction found in the text, or a mistake in geographical reference, or a misplaced scriptural allusion. These small, minute, changes built one upon the other over time so that we have major changes in key areas down the road.

For example: in Paul’s letter to the Galatians he was writing to one of the churches, or perhaps all of them as Galatia was not a single town but a region ain Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in which Paul had established churches. We presume he meant them all as he did not single out a particular town or church. So that means he had to have copies made of this letter for each church. If he made multiple copies, how did he do it? To begin with, it appears that this letter, like others by Paul, was not written by his hand but was dictated to a secretarial scribe. Evidence for this comes at the end of the letter, where Paul added a postscript in his own handwriting, so that the recipients would know that it was he who was responsible for the letter (a common technique utilized in antiquity for dictated letters). “See with what large letters I am writing you with my own hand” (Galatians 6:11). In other words, his handwriting was larger and probably less professional in appearance than that of the scribe to whom he had dictated the letter. Many questions arise, did Paul dictate the letter word by word, or as a busy person over tasked with many things did he spell out the basic points, and allow the scribe to fill in the rest? Both methods were commonly used by letter writers in antiquity.

Let’s assume that Paul dictated the letter word for word. If so, did he glance over it before making this postscript and signing it? Did he read it word for word to ensure its accuracy? We do not know. Once the copy is in circulation and delivered to its destination in one of the churches in one of the towns, it is of course copied, and further mistakes can potentially be made. These mistake ridden copies get copied, and copied again, and copied again and so on down the line. At some point, the original is lost, worn out, or destroyed. At which point it is no longer possible to compare a copy with the original to make sure it is “correct”. What survives today, then, is not the original copy of the letter, nor one of the first copies that Paul himself had made, nor any of the copies that were produced in any of the towns of Galatia to which the letter was sent, nor any of the copies of those copies. The first reasonable complete copy we have of Galatians, which is fragmentary, has a number of missing parts and is a papyrus called P-46 (the 46th New Testament papyrus to be catalogued) which dates to about 200 CE. That’s approximately 150 years after Paul wrote the letter. It had been in circulation, being sometimes copied correctly and sometimes incorrectly, for 15 decades before any copy was made that survived down to the present day.

Another example, the Gospel of John. In John, the sayings of Jesus are long discourses rather than pithy, direct sayings; Jesus never tells a parable, for example, in John, unlike in the other three Gospels. Moreover, many events narrated in John are often found only in this gospel. For example, Jesus’s alleged conversations with Nicodemus in chapter 3, and with the Samaritan woman in chapter 4, or his miracles of turning water into wine in chapter 2, and raising Lazarus from the dead in Chapter 10. The author of John no doubt has sources for his account, and he put those sources together into his own flowing narrative of the life of Jesus, his ministry, death, and alleged resurrection. Chapter 21 appears to be a later add-on. Other passages of the Gospel of John also did not cohere completely with the rest.

Even the opening verses 1:1 – 18, which form a kind of prologue to the gospel, appear to be different from the rest. The passage is written in a highly poetic style not found in the rest of the gospel; moreover, while its central themes are repeated in the rest of the narrative, some of its most important vocabulary is not. Is it possible that this opening passage came from a different source than the rest of the account, and that it was added as an appropriate beginning by someone other than the author after an earlier edition of the book had already been published and circulated? Perhaps.

The examples are numerous, but the point is since we do not have an original of the New Testament, and all we have to consider are copies, of copies, of copies, of copies, of copies… One would presume an intelligent reader would view them with a critical eye, and a grain of salt.

References:

Tregelles, Samuel P. An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament London. Samuel Bagster & Sons. 1854. Print.

Fox, Adam., Mill, John., & Bentley, Richard. A Study of Textual Criticism of the New Testament, 1675 – 1729 Oxford. Blackwell. 1954. Print.

Metzger and Ehrman. Text of the New Testament Oxford. Oxford University press. 1964. Print.

Ehrman, Bart. Misquoting Jesus: The story behind who changed the bible and why. New York, Harper Collins. 2005. Print.

--------------------------------------------

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Very good. Thankyou. What a shame the typical Christian does not realise this.

What is more, the original authors (with the possible exception of some of Paul's letters) are effectively anonymous ie we don't know who they were, and they don't describe how they sourced their information.
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15-08-2015, 04:32 PM (This post was last modified: 15-08-2015 07:22 PM by Mark Fulton.)
RE: The systemic errancy problem of the scribes of Antiquity
(15-08-2015 10:46 AM)goodwithoutgod Wrote:  The systemic errancy problem of the scribes

TL : DR version: Transcribing and copying ancient texts was an inaccurate process.


In the ancient times consisting of the era around the formation of the New Testament, events were recorded in written form several ways. The elite and powerful were of course educated in the arts, philosophy, and written form. However, most of them would not have written things down by their hand, but spoken to a scribe. This scribe would have been educated in one of the several versions (a spectrum going from book hand, chancery hand, to documentary hand) of literary style usually by apprenticeship to a master craftsman. They would typically sign an obligatory two-year contract to learn shorthand for example. The elite also pressed slave scribes into service. The various churches had members that would write down teachings, oral tradition and were also copyist of other written material. This is why there are hundreds of thousands of minute differences amongst copies of copies of copies throughout this time.

There also existed literate historians like Philo of Alexandria, for example, who would travel around an area and record all noteworthy events. Some copyists (especially the uneducated slaves) were not even literate, but would simply copy down the symbols over and over. This is way before the printing press, after all, and the only way you can get your books or writings copied for others to enjoy was to have a copyist's hand scribe it letter by letter. Of course, the cheapest form of this was slave scribes, which may explain the massive amounts of errors throughout copies of ancient writings.

These minute differences are usually of no real significance, and a cross spectrum comparison can usually identify the “typos”. Some of the differences are simply just accidental mistakes, although we can never be certain if the changes were intentional or not. At the end of the day, scribes and copyists of all calibers were human and prone to make mistakes. This was a slow, tedious, and painstaking process. The majority of scribes who endeavored under their masters hand most likely did not have a vested interest in the accuracy of their work. The scribes would inevitably make alterations in those texts, changing the words they copied either by accident or by design. This was such a systemic problem that it was constantly mentioned in the writings of ancient historians, and philosophers. In a famous essay on the problem of anger, the Roman philosopher Seneca points out that there is a difference between anger directed at what has caused us harm and anger at what can do nothing to hurt us. To illustrate the latter category he mentions “certain inanimate things, such as the manuscript which we often hurl from us because it is written in too small a script or tear up because it is so full of mistakes.”. Another example from the Roman poet Martial, “if any poems in those sheets, reader, seem to you either too obscure or not quite good Latin, not mine is the mistake: the copyist spoiled them in his haste to complete for you his tale of verses”.

In the churches, the early Christian texts were not being copied by professional scribes, at least in the first two or three centuries of the church, but simply by educated members of the Christian congregations who could do the job and were willing to do so, and inevitably this resulted in many transcriptional mistakes. This is not conjecture, as we have solid evidence that this was the case, as it was a matter of occasional complaint by Christians reading those texts and trying to uncover the original words of their authors. For example, the third-century church father Origen once registered the following complaint about the copies of the Gospels at his disposal: “the differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please”.

Some 70 years earlier, Celsus in his attack on Christianity and its literature, pointed out that, “some believers, as though from a drinking bout, go so far as to oppose themselves and alter the original text of the gospel three or four or several times over, and change its character to enable them to deny difficulties in face of criticism” (Against Celsus, Origen, 2.27). Celsus was a pagan opponent of Christianity who lived in the late second century and authored a book called The True Word, in which he attacked Christianity on a number of grounds, arguing that it was a foolish, dangerous religion that should be wiped off the face of the earth. 70 years later Origen wrote a book called Against Celsus to answer the criticism. There is not an intact copy of Celsus’s book to be found, but because Origen quoted the book so much in his work, we can reconstruct with fair accuracy Celsus’s claims. Overall Origen posited that true Christian believers are in fact wise, but they are wise with respect to God, not with respect to things in this world. He did not deny, in other words, that the Christian community at the time was largely made up of lower, uneducated classes, whose work on literary matters was understandably inaccurate.

This inaccuracy problem was so prevalent, that mention of it is even seen within the Bible itself. In the book of revelations, the author near the end of this text, utters a dire warning, “I testify to everyone who hears the word of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book: and if anyone removes any of the words of the book of this prophecy, God will remove his share from the tree of life and from the holy city, as described in this book” (revelations 22:18 – 19). This was obviously not a threat intended towards the reader, but towards the copyists of the book.

We see this yet again as indicated by the rather severe threats uttered by the Latin Christian scholar Rufinus with respect to his translation of one of the Origen’s works, “… Beseech everyone who may either transcribe or read these books, by his belief in the kingdom to come, by the mystery of the resurrection from the dead, and by that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels, that,… He add nothing to what is written and take away nothing from it, and make no insertion or alteration, but that he compare his transcription with the copies which made it”.

Now to be forthright, one must accept that the majority of the changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple… Slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another. Scribes could be quite incompetent, and it is important to recall that most of the copyists in the early centuries were not trained to do this kind of work and were simply the literate members of their congregations who were more or less, able and willing. Regardless, this task could be tedious and frustrating as indicated multiple times by notes occasionally added to manuscripts in which a scribe would pen a kind of sigh of relief, such as “the end of the manuscript. Thanks be to God!”. Another issue was, even in later times like in the fourth and fifth century, when the church scribes were professionally trained, they would make an intentional change, for example, when they came across a passage that appeared to embody a theological mistake that needed to be corrected, possibly a contradiction found in the text, or a mistake in geographical reference, or a misplaced scriptural allusion. These small, minute, changes built one upon the other over time so that we have major changes in key areas down the road.

For example: in Paul’s letter to the Galatians he was writing to one of the churches, or perhaps all of them as Galatia was not a single town but a region ain Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in which Paul had established churches. We presume he meant them all as he did not single out a particular town or church. So that means he had to have copies made of this letter for each church. If he made multiple copies, how did he do it? To begin with, it appears that this letter, like others by Paul, was not written by his hand but was dictated to a secretarial scribe. Evidence for this comes at the end of the letter, where Paul added a postscript in his own handwriting, so that the recipients would know that it was he who was responsible for the letter (a common technique utilized in antiquity for dictated letters). “See with what large letters I am writing you with my own hand” (Galatians 6:11). In other words, his handwriting was larger and probably less professional in appearance than that of the scribe to whom he had dictated the letter. Many questions arise, did Paul dictate the letter word by word, or as a busy person over tasked with many things did he spell out the basic points, and allow the scribe to fill in the rest? Both methods were commonly used by letter writers in antiquity.

Let’s assume that Paul dictated the letter word for word. If so, did he glance over it before making this postscript and signing it? Did he read it word for word to ensure its accuracy? We do not know. Once the copy is in circulation and delivered to its destination in one of the churches in one of the towns, it is of course copied, and further mistakes can potentially be made. These mistake ridden copies get copied, and copied again, and copied again and so on down the line. At some point, the original is lost, worn out, or destroyed. At which point it is no longer possible to compare a copy with the original to make sure it is “correct”. What survives today, then, is not the original copy of the letter, nor one of the first copies that Paul himself had made, nor any of the copies that were produced in any of the towns of Galatia to which the letter was sent, nor any of the copies of those copies. The first reasonable complete copy we have of Galatians, which is fragmentary, has a number of missing parts and is a papyrus called P-46 (the 46th New Testament papyrus to be catalogued) which dates to about 200 CE. That’s approximately 150 years after Paul wrote the letter. It had been in circulation, being sometimes copied correctly and sometimes incorrectly, for 15 decades before any copy was made that survived down to the present day.

Another example, the Gospel of John. In John, the sayings of Jesus are long discourses rather than pithy, direct sayings; Jesus never tells a parable, for example, in John, unlike in the other three Gospels. Moreover, many events narrated in John are often found only in this gospel. For example, Jesus’s alleged conversations with Nicodemus in chapter 3, and with the Samaritan woman in chapter 4, or his miracles of turning water into wine in chapter 2, and raising Lazarus from the dead in Chapter 10. The author of John no doubt has sources for his account, and he put those sources together into his own flowing narrative of the life of Jesus, his ministry, death, and alleged resurrection. Chapter 21 appears to be a later add-on. Other passages of the Gospel of John also did not cohere completely with the rest.

Even the opening verses 1:1 – 18, which form a kind of prologue to the gospel, appear to be different from the rest. The passage is written in a highly poetic style not found in the rest of the gospel; moreover, while its central themes are repeated in the rest of the narrative, some of its most important vocabulary is not. Is it possible that this opening passage came from a different source than the rest of the account, and that it was added as an appropriate beginning by someone other than the author after an earlier edition of the book had already been published and circulated? Perhaps.

The examples are numerous, but the point is since we do not have an original of the New Testament, and all we have to consider are copies, of copies, of copies, of copies, of copies… One would presume an intelligent reader would view them with a critical eye, and a grain of salt.

References:

Tregelles, Samuel P. An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament London. Samuel Bagster & Sons. 1854. Print.

Fox, Adam., Mill, John., & Bentley, Richard. A Study of Textual Criticism of the New Testament, 1675 – 1729 Oxford. Blackwell. 1954. Print.

Metzger and Ehrman. Text of the New Testament Oxford. Oxford University press. 1964. Print.

Ehrman, Bart. Misquoting Jesus: The story behind who changed the bible and why. New York, Harper Collins. 2005. Print.

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Since commentary isn't allowed there...thoughts? opinions? support? dissent?

"For example, the third-century church father Origen once registered the following complaint about the copies of the Gospels at his disposal: “the differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please”."

This is damning evidence against the veracity of the Gospels. Thanks for sharing. I hadn't read this before. Just think, Origen then had the audacity to bad-mouth Celsus!
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15-08-2015, 04:33 PM
RE: The systemic errancy problem of the scribes of Antiquity
(15-08-2015 10:46 AM)goodwithoutgod Wrote:  The systemic errancy problem of the scribes

TL : DR version: Transcribing and copying ancient texts was an inaccurate process.


In the ancient times consisting of the era around the formation of the New Testament, events were recorded in written form several ways. The elite and powerful were of course educated in the arts, philosophy, and written form. However, most of them would not have written things down by their hand, but spoken to a scribe. This scribe would have been educated in one of the several versions (a spectrum going from book hand, chancery hand, to documentary hand) of literary style usually by apprenticeship to a master craftsman. They would typically sign an obligatory two-year contract to learn shorthand for example. The elite also pressed slave scribes into service. The various churches had members that would write down teachings, oral tradition and were also copyist of other written material. This is why there are hundreds of thousands of minute differences amongst copies of copies of copies throughout this time.

There also existed literate historians like Philo of Alexandria, for example, who would travel around an area and record all noteworthy events. Some copyists (especially the uneducated slaves) were not even literate, but would simply copy down the symbols over and over. This is way before the printing press, after all, and the only way you can get your books or writings copied for others to enjoy was to have a copyist's hand scribe it letter by letter. Of course, the cheapest form of this was slave scribes, which may explain the massive amounts of errors throughout copies of ancient writings.

These minute differences are usually of no real significance, and a cross spectrum comparison can usually identify the “typos”. Some of the differences are simply just accidental mistakes, although we can never be certain if the changes were intentional or not. At the end of the day, scribes and copyists of all calibers were human and prone to make mistakes. This was a slow, tedious, and painstaking process. The majority of scribes who endeavored under their masters hand most likely did not have a vested interest in the accuracy of their work. The scribes would inevitably make alterations in those texts, changing the words they copied either by accident or by design. This was such a systemic problem that it was constantly mentioned in the writings of ancient historians, and philosophers. In a famous essay on the problem of anger, the Roman philosopher Seneca points out that there is a difference between anger directed at what has caused us harm and anger at what can do nothing to hurt us. To illustrate the latter category he mentions “certain inanimate things, such as the manuscript which we often hurl from us because it is written in too small a script or tear up because it is so full of mistakes.”. Another example from the Roman poet Martial, “if any poems in those sheets, reader, seem to you either too obscure or not quite good Latin, not mine is the mistake: the copyist spoiled them in his haste to complete for you his tale of verses”.

In the churches, the early Christian texts were not being copied by professional scribes, at least in the first two or three centuries of the church, but simply by educated members of the Christian congregations who could do the job and were willing to do so, and inevitably this resulted in many transcriptional mistakes. This is not conjecture, as we have solid evidence that this was the case, as it was a matter of occasional complaint by Christians reading those texts and trying to uncover the original words of their authors. For example, the third-century church father Origen once registered the following complaint about the copies of the Gospels at his disposal: “the differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please”.

Some 70 years earlier, Celsus in his attack on Christianity and its literature, pointed out that, “some believers, as though from a drinking bout, go so far as to oppose themselves and alter the original text of the gospel three or four or several times over, and change its character to enable them to deny difficulties in face of criticism” (Against Celsus, Origen, 2.27). Celsus was a pagan opponent of Christianity who lived in the late second century and authored a book called The True Word, in which he attacked Christianity on a number of grounds, arguing that it was a foolish, dangerous religion that should be wiped off the face of the earth. 70 years later Origen wrote a book called Against Celsus to answer the criticism. There is not an intact copy of Celsus’s book to be found, but because Origen quoted the book so much in his work, we can reconstruct with fair accuracy Celsus’s claims. Overall Origen posited that true Christian believers are in fact wise, but they are wise with respect to God, not with respect to things in this world. He did not deny, in other words, that the Christian community at the time was largely made up of lower, uneducated classes, whose work on literary matters was understandably inaccurate.

This inaccuracy problem was so prevalent, that mention of it is even seen within the Bible itself. In the book of revelations, the author near the end of this text, utters a dire warning, “I testify to everyone who hears the word of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book: and if anyone removes any of the words of the book of this prophecy, God will remove his share from the tree of life and from the holy city, as described in this book” (revelations 22:18 – 19). This was obviously not a threat intended towards the reader, but towards the copyists of the book.

We see this yet again as indicated by the rather severe threats uttered by the Latin Christian scholar Rufinus with respect to his translation of one of the Origen’s works, “… Beseech everyone who may either transcribe or read these books, by his belief in the kingdom to come, by the mystery of the resurrection from the dead, and by that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels, that,… He add nothing to what is written and take away nothing from it, and make no insertion or alteration, but that he compare his transcription with the copies which made it”.

Now to be forthright, one must accept that the majority of the changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple… Slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another. Scribes could be quite incompetent, and it is important to recall that most of the copyists in the early centuries were not trained to do this kind of work and were simply the literate members of their congregations who were more or less, able and willing. Regardless, this task could be tedious and frustrating as indicated multiple times by notes occasionally added to manuscripts in which a scribe would pen a kind of sigh of relief, such as “the end of the manuscript. Thanks be to God!”. Another issue was, even in later times like in the fourth and fifth century, when the church scribes were professionally trained, they would make an intentional change, for example, when they came across a passage that appeared to embody a theological mistake that needed to be corrected, possibly a contradiction found in the text, or a mistake in geographical reference, or a misplaced scriptural allusion. These small, minute, changes built one upon the other over time so that we have major changes in key areas down the road.

For example: in Paul’s letter to the Galatians he was writing to one of the churches, or perhaps all of them as Galatia was not a single town but a region ain Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in which Paul had established churches. We presume he meant them all as he did not single out a particular town or church. So that means he had to have copies made of this letter for each church. If he made multiple copies, how did he do it? To begin with, it appears that this letter, like others by Paul, was not written by his hand but was dictated to a secretarial scribe. Evidence for this comes at the end of the letter, where Paul added a postscript in his own handwriting, so that the recipients would know that it was he who was responsible for the letter (a common technique utilized in antiquity for dictated letters). “See with what large letters I am writing you with my own hand” (Galatians 6:11). In other words, his handwriting was larger and probably less professional in appearance than that of the scribe to whom he had dictated the letter. Many questions arise, did Paul dictate the letter word by word, or as a busy person over tasked with many things did he spell out the basic points, and allow the scribe to fill in the rest? Both methods were commonly used by letter writers in antiquity.

Let’s assume that Paul dictated the letter word for word. If so, did he glance over it before making this postscript and signing it? Did he read it word for word to ensure its accuracy? We do not know. Once the copy is in circulation and delivered to its destination in one of the churches in one of the towns, it is of course copied, and further mistakes can potentially be made. These mistake ridden copies get copied, and copied again, and copied again and so on down the line. At some point, the original is lost, worn out, or destroyed. At which point it is no longer possible to compare a copy with the original to make sure it is “correct”. What survives today, then, is not the original copy of the letter, nor one of the first copies that Paul himself had made, nor any of the copies that were produced in any of the towns of Galatia to which the letter was sent, nor any of the copies of those copies. The first reasonable complete copy we have of Galatians, which is fragmentary, has a number of missing parts and is a papyrus called P-46 (the 46th New Testament papyrus to be catalogued) which dates to about 200 CE. That’s approximately 150 years after Paul wrote the letter. It had been in circulation, being sometimes copied correctly and sometimes incorrectly, for 15 decades before any copy was made that survived down to the present day.

Another example, the Gospel of John. In John, the sayings of Jesus are long discourses rather than pithy, direct sayings; Jesus never tells a parable, for example, in John, unlike in the other three Gospels. Moreover, many events narrated in John are often found only in this gospel. For example, Jesus’s alleged conversations with Nicodemus in chapter 3, and with the Samaritan woman in chapter 4, or his miracles of turning water into wine in chapter 2, and raising Lazarus from the dead in Chapter 10. The author of John no doubt has sources for his account, and he put those sources together into his own flowing narrative of the life of Jesus, his ministry, death, and alleged resurrection. Chapter 21 appears to be a later add-on. Other passages of the Gospel of John also did not cohere completely with the rest.

Even the opening verses 1:1 – 18, which form a kind of prologue to the gospel, appear to be different from the rest. The passage is written in a highly poetic style not found in the rest of the gospel; moreover, while its central themes are repeated in the rest of the narrative, some of its most important vocabulary is not. Is it possible that this opening passage came from a different source than the rest of the account, and that it was added as an appropriate beginning by someone other than the author after an earlier edition of the book had already been published and circulated? Perhaps.

The examples are numerous, but the point is since we do not have an original of the New Testament, and all we have to consider are copies, of copies, of copies, of copies, of copies… One would presume an intelligent reader would view them with a critical eye, and a grain of salt.

References:

Tregelles, Samuel P. An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament London. Samuel Bagster & Sons. 1854. Print.

Fox, Adam., Mill, John., & Bentley, Richard. A Study of Textual Criticism of the New Testament, 1675 – 1729 Oxford. Blackwell. 1954. Print.

Metzger and Ehrman. Text of the New Testament Oxford. Oxford University press. 1964. Print.

Ehrman, Bart. Misquoting Jesus: The story behind who changed the bible and why. New York, Harper Collins. 2005. Print.

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Since commentary isn't allowed there...thoughts? opinions? support? dissent?

How dare you. You mean they can't cherry pick their "ancient sources" ?

BTW : "Inspiration". Checkmate atheists. Weeping

Insufferable know-it-all.Einstein God has a plan for us. Please stop screwing it up with your prayers.
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15-08-2015, 04:41 PM
RE: The systemic errancy problem of the scribes of Antiquity
Well done Gwog.

Somewhere I read, and it may have been in one of Bart Ehrman's books, that Socrates and Plato's works are also copies of copies of copies ... etc. from dictated works and what we have today are far from anything original.

Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors.... on Donald J. Trump:

He is deformed, crooked, old, and sere,
Ill-fac’d, worse bodied, shapeless every where;
Vicious, ungentle, foolish, blunt, unkind,
Stigmatical in making, worse in mind.
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15-08-2015, 05:13 PM (This post was last modified: 16-08-2015 08:59 AM by goodwithoutgod.)
RE: The systemic errancy problem of the scribes of Antiquity
I agree, and as you all know, that is the problem. Because it has had 2,000 years to be fabricated, manipulated, and modified whether by mistake or intent, with each consecutive copy the problems got worse...then you throw in the translation errors and interpolations and VOILA! fiction at its best. Rolleyes

"Belief is so often the death of reason" - Qyburn, Game of Thrones

"The Christian community continues to exist because the conclusions of the critical study of the Bible are largely withheld from them." -Hans Conzelmann (1915-1989)
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15-08-2015, 05:49 PM
RE: The systemic errancy problem of the scribes of Antiquity
Fun fact. Did you know that the famous Jesus quote: «may the one without sin cast the first stone.» Was an addition written in the margin of a 4th century manuscript and was most likely a comment on the response of Jesus. In the original Jesus's replies is unknown since he just wrote something on the ground and left without saying anything. We don't know what happen to that women either.
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15-08-2015, 05:52 PM
RE: The systemic errancy problem of the scribes of Antiquity
(15-08-2015 05:49 PM)epronovost Wrote:  Fun fact. Did you know that the famous Jesus quote: «may the one without sin cast the first stone.» Was an addition written in the margin of a 4th century manuscript and was most likely a comment on the response of Jesus. In the original Jesus's replies is unknown since he just wrote something on the ground and left without saying anything. We don't know what happen to that women either.

I had heard of that actually Smile

Nice addition though, thanks.

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"Belief is so often the death of reason" - Qyburn, Game of Thrones

"The Christian community continues to exist because the conclusions of the critical study of the Bible are largely withheld from them." -Hans Conzelmann (1915-1989)
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15-08-2015, 06:22 PM
RE: The systemic errancy problem of the scribes of Antiquity
That's a very good point, goodwithoutgod, and you seem like a clever young man, but I'm afraid it's turtles divine inspiration all the way down.

CHECKMATE, ATHEISTS.

EDIT:
GODDAMNIT BUCKY
(15-08-2015 04:33 PM)Bucky Ball Wrote:  BTW : "Inspiration". Checkmate atheists. Weeping

... this is my signature!
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15-08-2015, 06:26 PM
RE: The systemic errancy problem of the scribes of Antiquity
Always enjoy reading your posts, GWG. Very informative!

"Let the waters settle and you will see the moon and stars mirrored in your own being." -Rumi
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