Saturday, May 2, 2015

    The Bookworm Report #8: Misquoting Jesus

    The Bookworm Report #8
    Submitted by Russell Pizer

    Misquoting Jesus © 2005, 242pp
    The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
    by Bart D. Ehrman

    It is often asked, “How can a biblical scholar who is a Christian believe in The Bible as the inerrant and/or revealed word of God? The inside flap of the dust cover of Misquoting Jesus provides a partial answer.  It reads in part, “When world-class biblical scholar Bart Ehrman first began to study the texts of the Bible in their original languages he was startled to discover the multitude of mistakes and intentional alterations that had been made by earlier translators. In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman tells the story behind the mistakes and changes that ancient scribes made to the New Testament and shows the great impact it had on the Bible* we use today. . . [His studies] made him abandon his once ultraconservative views of the Bible.”  [One writer said that the living God must be a very poor communicator to have allowed such variations in his written message to mankind.]

    The dust cover flap then continues, “Ehrman makes the provocative case that many of our cherished biblical stories and widely held beliefs concerning the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the divine origins of the Bible itself stem from both intentional and accidental alterations by scribes – alterations that dramatically affect all subsequent versions of the Bible.”

    On page 46, Ehrman explains one of the many problems that have occurred over and over throughout the early years of biblical literature.  He writes: “One of the problems with ancient Greek texts . . . is that when they were copied, no marks of punctuation were used, no distinction made between lowercase and uppercase‡ letters, and, even more bizarre to modern readers, no spaces used to separate words. This kind of continuous writing is called scriptuo continua, and it obviously could make it difficult at times to read, let alone understand, a text.  The word godisnowhere could mean quite different things to a theist (God is now here) and an atheist (God is nowhere) . . .”

    Continuing on page 48, Ehrman writes: [scribes] “could not distinguish between the syllables. [Being as most scribes] could not read the text fluently but could only recognize the letters, and so copied them one at a time.  Obviously, if you don’t know what you’re reading, the possibility of making mistakes in transcription multiply.”

    On Page 88 Ehrman tells of the search made by John Mill who was an English theologian. He is noted for his critical edition of the Greek New Testament which included notes on the many variant readings.  (This John Mill is not to be confused with John Stuart Mill – the great Utilitarian.) This earlier John Mill spent 30 years accumulating materials for his text that was published in 1707. During that time, he isolated some 30,000 places where different manuscript citations and versions had different readings for passages . . . Mill was not exhaustive in his presentation of the data he had collected.  He had, in fact, found far more than 30,000 places of variation. He did not cite everything he discovered, leaving out variations such as those involving changes of word order . . .  Whereas Mill knew of or examined some 100 Greek manuscripts to uncover his 30,000 variations, today [2005] we know of far, far more.  At last count, more than 5,700 Greek manuscripts have been discovered and catalogued. . . .  These include everything from the smallest fragments of the size of a credit card to very large and magnificent productions, preserved in their entirety. . . These manuscripts range in date from the early [2nd down to the 16th century].  Some of these manuscripts are inexpensive, hastily produced copies; some were actually copied onto reused pages (a document was erased and the text . . . was written over the top of the erased pages); others are enormously lavish and expensive copies, including some written on purple-dyed parchment with silver or gold ink.”

    On page 89, Ehrman adds: “Scholars differ significantly in their estimates [of the number of variants known]. [S]ome say there are 200,000 variants, some say 300,000, some say 400,000 or more!  We do not know for sure because, despite impressive developments in computer technology, no one has yet been able to count them all.  Perhaps . . . it is best simply to leave the matter in comparative terms.  There are more variations among manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.”
    - - - - -
    * In modern American-English prose writing about “the Bible,” the word “the” should not only have an uppercase “t” but also be in italics.  Also, the word “Bible” should be italicized.  Thus the name of this particular book should appear in print as: The Bible.

    ‡ The terms “upper case” and “lower case” come from the suitcase-like boxes with shallow drawers called type-cases that held the “type” type for the movable-type printing presses.  The “capital” letters were in the upper part of the case.  The lower part of the case held the “smaller” type.  We still use the word “type” today, as in “typographical” errors.  That term should perhaps be changed to 
    “computergraphical” or “data-entry” error.

    Tuesday, March 3, 2015

    Alternate invocations don't go down well in Idaho. Surprise?

    From the AP wire via the New York Times, a protest against an invocation that is non-Christian:

    At least in parts of Arizona, secular invocations at governmental meetings haven't met with this kind of reaction.

    Be sure to read the comments.  One of my favorites was the commenter who asked how it was OK to have a Jewish invocation (non-Christian last I looked) but Hindu is protest-worthy.

    The Myth of the Angry Atheist

    This column from the Guardian debunks the Angry Atheist myth.  We might be annoyed, but not necessarily angry.

    Saturday, February 28, 2015

    The Bookworm Report #7: The Mythmaker by Hyam Maccoby

    Submitted by Russell Pizer

    The Bookworm Report #7
    The Mythmaker
    – Paul and the Invention of Christianity
    by Hyam Maccoby ©1986, 237pp

    The inside flap of the dust cover of the book titled The Mythmaker, begins with this question: “Who was the founder of Christianity? The answer seems obvious – Jesus. . .”  The author, a Talmudic scholar, shows clearly that this is not true. The information on that flap continues: “. . . Jesus’ disciples never had any thought of founding a new [religion]; they never embraced such ideas as Jesus’ divinity and the Eucharist, which were the brainchildren of Paul; and the heretical Ebionite* sect was really a continuation of ‘Jewish Christianity’ against which Paul had rebelled.”

    For clarity, this “Paul” was Saul of Tarsus who has become known as the “Apostle Paul.” Also, for clarity, there is no evidence in The Bible that Paul had contact with Jesus except through Paul’s own alleged revelations that he said came directly for the risen Jesus.

    It may seem nonsensical to Christians that the founder of Christianity was not the Jesus of Nazareth or any of his apostles – including James – his biological brother – or Peter, but Paul. At first, Paul defied James and Peter and claimed revelations from Paul's new deity as a basis of the doctrines of his (Paul’s) new religion which has come down to present day societies as the Christian religion.

    On page 139, this is found: “[The book of Acts – particularly Chapter 15] was written to minimize the conflict between Paul and the leaders of the ‘Jerusalem Church’ – James and Peter.  Peter and Paul, in later Christian traditions, became twin saints – brothers in the faith. . . The idea that they were historically bitter opponents standing for irreconcilable religious [differences] would have been repudiated with horror.  The work of the author of Acts was done well. [H]e rescued Christianity from the imputation of being the individual creation of Paul . . . [He] gave it a respectable pedigree, as a doctrine with the authority of the so-called ‘Jerusalem Church’ . . .   Yet, for all his efforts, the truth of the matter is not hard to recover. If we examine the New Testament evidence with an eye to tell-tale inconsistencies and confusions, rather than with the determination to gloss over and harmonize all difficulties,  . . .” the truth of the conflict becomes evident.

    Page 145 continues with, “Paul did not accept, either in his private thoughts or in his teaching . . . that he was under the authority of the Jerusalem Community led by James [the brother of Jesus].  On the contrary, he regarded his own authority as higher than theirs, since his doctrines came – as he declared – direct from the risen Christ, while theirs came only from the earthly Jesus. Yet he came meekly to Jerusalem when summoned and submitted himself to the decision of James for he did not consider the time ripe for a complete break with Jewish Christianity.”  In other words, Paul wasn’t honest enough to tell the followers that Jesus had selected that he [Paul] was going to “do his own thing.”

    Because it is in the Book of Acts that we find Saul’s conversion making him the “Founder of Christianity” – not Jesus of Nazareth, the author of The Mythmaker, Hyam Maccoby, on page 88, gives a problematic view of the New Testament.  Maccoby states that there are three accounts of [Paul’s conversion] in Chapters 9, 22 and 26 with some curious inconsistencies. Also there are four other accounts in the first chapter of Galatians written by Paul himself. These raise problems also.
     — Russell Pizer   
    - - - - - 
    * The Ebionites regarded Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah while rejecting his divinity and insisted on the necessity of following Jewish law and rites. They revered James the Just and rejected Paul (Saul of Tarsus). Ebionim was one of the terms used by the sect at Qumran that sought to separate themselves from the corruption of the Temple, whom many believed were the Essenes.

    Tuesday, February 3, 2015

    Don't look now, but Hell may be freezing over - Evangelicals embrace gay marriage (!!!)

    I found this article to be moving in a couple of ways.  First, just the fact that an evangelical church has pivoted to a position of acceptance of same-sex marriage.  The second was in reading the thought process that led up to this decision, grounded in scripture, if you can believe it.  Even though we don't share the same views on religious issues, maybe there really is a way we can work it out so that we achieve the same end.  It's not the belief, it's the action that counts in the end.

    David Brooks of the NY Times takes on secularism - worth reading for the comments

    Conservative NY Times columnist David Brooks has recently strayed into the minefield of philosophy.  This column is worth reading not necessarily for what he says but rather for the comments, many of which rebut Brooks' argument in thoughtful responses which contain nuggets of wisdom that HSGP members could use to further refine their own thoughts about secularism.  (Sorry for the bad pun but I couldn't resist.)