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Monday, January 7, 2013

Comparative Manuscripts for Ancient Documents





Comparative Manuscripts for Ancient Documents

The NT documents are independent sources that were gathered together BECAUSE they were the earliest sources. There was no such thing as "Christian" sources back then. The Bible is not A book. It is a collection of the earliest best attested documents. So is it surprising that we dont find a lot outside of it from an early time? Not really. It would be like if we gathered up all the eye witness documents about Lincoln in a book (let’s call it The L Book) and then complained because we dont really have any early or eyewitness testimony BESIDES the testimonies contained within the L Book to confirm what is in the L Book.

As for Alexander the Great, you believe he existed. And your comments reveal your ignorance. He did exist. Are EARLIEST source for him is over 200 years after his death, our BEST source for him is 400 years, and the biographies are FILLED (and I do mean FILLED) with miracle and supernatural claims about him. It is just TOTAL ignorance to say otherwise. So to say that Alexander the Great is more plausible than Jesus based on LESS and LATER documents that have no hope of being eye witnesses (or at least based on the testimony of eyewitnesses such as the gospels) is why I asked you what kind of study you have put into this before you make totally uneducated and assumptive assertions. Seems you are only a "skeptic" when you want to be.

Again do the research on how much we know about Alexander the Great. Or how about Cesar Augustus or Tiberius Cesar who died just several years after Jesus. We have better documentation and information about Jesus' life (biographies written within 65 years at the latest even by liberal dating with our first manuscripts coming only a half a century after) than we do about either of them (with the best biographies not coming for 100+ years later with our first manuscripts coming hundreds of years later.) This is why the consensus among historians and text critics on this regardless of if they are theists or atheists, is that Jesus existed, was an itinerant preacher, was arrested as a political criminal, died on a roman cross and then his followers went around saying he rose from the dead. You even have some atheist historians saying that it is a historical fact that Jesus rose from the dead. To say that we dont have good evidence just puts you at odds with nearly every historian who specializes in this area. Read anything from Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses to Ehrman's newest Did Jesus Exist. Ehrman is not writing to convince specialists. He was writing to the public to get them to stop passing on the nonsense that we cant know that Jesus existed when scholarship has long abandoned that view.

So for example let us compare the textual evidence of Jesus with that of Alexander the Great or Tiberius Cesar (the Roman Cesar during the life of Jesus... pretty famous and important guy right?)

Alexander the Great – D. 330 BCE
Had biographies contemporary to him – we don’t have any of them and only hear about them in other sources.
Earliest source for Alexander – written 300+ years after his death.
Best sources – Plutarch and Arian – written 425+ years after his death

Tiberius Cesar – D. 37 CE
About the same amount of sources for Tiberius as Jesus.
Earliest source for Tiberius – Contemporary and we have it. The problem is that it is the LEAST usable/valuable source.
Best Source – Tacitus at 80+ years.
Next Source – Suetonius at 85+ years.
Next Source – Diocassius at 180+ years.

So for the RULER of the whole Roman Empire during the same time as Jesus - 4 sources. The best coming at 80+ years.

So what about Jesus? 4 primary sources starting within 40 years (the most liberal date for Mark, within 10 if we give more conservative dates) and if we include creedal statements we get to within only 6 months of the death of Jesus. This is just basic historical Jesus scholarship on this point. From NT Wright, Bart Ehrman, James D.G. Dunn, E.P. Sanders, and so on.

Comparative Manuscripts for Ancient Documents

1.      Author: Caesar
a.       Composition: 100-44 BCE
b.      First Extant Manuscript: 900 CE
c.       Time Gap: 1,000 yrs
d.      Total Extant Manuscripts: 10

2.      Author: Plato
a.       Composition: 427-347 BCE
b.      First Extant Manuscript: 900 CE
c.       Time Gap: 1,300 yrs
d.      Total Extant Manuscripts: 7

3.      Author: Thucydides
a.       Composition: 460-400 BCE
b.      First Extant Manuscript: 900 CE
c.       Time Gap: 1,300 yrs
d.      Total Extant Manuscripts: 8

4.      Author: Tacitus
a.       Composition: 100 CE
b.      First Extant Manuscript: 1100 CE
c.       Time Gap: 1,000 yrs
d.      Total Extant Manuscripts: 20

5.      Author: Suetonius
a.       Composition: 75-160 CE
b.      First Extant Manuscript: 950 CE
c.       Time Gap: 800 yrs
d.      Total Extant Manuscripts: 8

6.      Author: Pliny
a.       Composition: 61-113 CE
b.      First Extant Manuscript: 850 CE
c.       Time Gap: 750 yrs
d.      Total Extant Manuscripts: 7

7.      Author: Homer’s Illiad
a.       Composition: 900 BCE
b.      First Extant Manuscript: 400 BCE
c.       Time Gap: 500 yrs
d.      Total Extant Manuscripts: 643

8.      New Testament
a.       Composition: 45-95 CE
b.      First Extant Manuscript: 125 CE
c.       Time Gap: 25-50 yrs
d.      Total Extant Manuscripts: 24,000 (This does not include the early citations from letters, treatises and lectionaries in the 1st and 2nd century by the church fathers which can reconstruct the entire NT save 11 verses of which there are over 80,000. With those included there are over 100,000 manuscripts of the NT, most within 100 years of composition)

Textual Criticism:

We have all heard it said that there are over 400,000 variants in the Greek New Testament alone (thank you very much Dr. Ehrman). The first problem with this is simply methodological. Without describing how these variants are counted, Ehrman does his reader a massive disservice. Let’s imagine that we have 20 copies of the L Book discussed above. Within those documents, Manuscript א spells the word “honour” while the rest spell it “honor.” This would count as 19 variants – that is within the entire corpus of manuscripts, א varies with the other manuscripts at 19 locations. Now imagine that each manuscript of the L Book had just a handful of spelling errors at different locations from the others. You can see just how rapidly the number of variants would add up. Ironically someone has pointed out that in Ehrman’s own book where he makes this claim (Misquoting Jesus) there are 12 typographical errors. Ehrman has sold millions of copies of the book. If we counted only 1 million of those copies, then contained within the entire corpus of Misquoting Jesus, there would be over 1.2 million errors – that is more errors than words in the entire book! Hopefully you see the simple methodological problem inherent in Ehrman’s comments.

The main problem however with such a statement is the massive oversimplification of such a statement. This is because of those, 99% of them are spelling (mostly), or related to word order (something much more fluid in Koine Greek), or they are related to known contractions, omission or repetition of words. Of the 400,000 variants, only about 400 of them would affect the meaning of a sentence. Of those 400, only a few dozen or so are in dispute as to what the original would have said. And of those few dozen, none of them affect a single Christian doctrine or teaching.

Another problem with this kind of assertion is that it actually tries to make a text critical strength into a weakness. We have 400,000 variants because we have now almost 6,000 manuscripts of the Greek NT and almost 19,000 in 1st translations. The only reason we have so many variants is precisely because we have so many manuscripts. But it is *because* we have so many manuscripts that textual criticism is possible and a near 96.5-99% assured accuracy rate has been achieved. As we discover more manuscripts the number of variants will increase but so will the assured accuracy of the text. This is not to say that we can be only 96.5-99% confident that we are reading what was originally written but rather that we can be 100% confident that we are reading what was originally written in 97-99% of the lines of the New Testament. And thanks to Textual Criticism we know exactly what letters, words, and phrases make up the 1-3% uncertainty and often have a pretty good estimate of the original text even in those cases.

We have other documents that we can compare as well. Here is a chart with the BEST (yes these are the best) attested ancient manuscripts to compare to the New Testament:

Author
Life/approx. Composition
Earliest Copy
Time Span
# of copies
Textual Accuracy
Pliny
61-113 CE
850 CE
750 yrs
7
----
Plato
427-347 BCE
900 CE
1200 yrs
7
----
Demosthenes
4th cent. BCE
1100 CE
1500 yrs
8
----
Herodotus
480-425 BCE
900 CE
1300 yrs
8
----
Suetonius
75-160 CE
950 CE
800 yrs
8
----
Thucydides
460-400 BCE
900 CE
1300 yrs
8
----
Euripides
480-406 BCE
1100 CE
1300 yrs
9
----
Josephys
75-94 CE
900 CE
800 yrs
9
----
Aristophanies
450-385 BCE
900 CE
1200 yrs
10
----
Caesar
100-4 BCE
900 CE
1000 yrs
10
----
Tacitus
100 CE
1100 CE
1000 yrs
20
----
Aristotle
384-322 BCE
1100 CE
1400 yrs
49
----
Sophicles
496-406 BCE
1000 CE
1400 yrs
196
----
Homer
900 BCE
300 BCE
600 yrs
643
95%
New Testament
45-95 CE
125 CE
30 yrs
5600[1]
99.5%

Another interesting side issue arises at this point. Some critics like the pit the gospels historical reliability against contemporaneous histories. They will almost exclusively only know of Josephus (who really is our primary source for 1st century Jewish history). They will say that because the gospels were written around 70's CE (according to their dating), that it is not eyewitness accounts or even based on eye witness accounts (again according to their dating), and that we dont have have the originals, or the copies of the copies of the copies (which I think is likely false), then where they contradict with "what we already know about that time" (i.e. what we read in Josephus) that therefore the gospels are wrong.

Although it is at this point, I have a question. What happens then when we realize that Josephus did not write The Jewish Wars until 75 CE, and did not write The Antiquities of the Jews until 94 CE (in some cases over 250 years after the events he is reporting) and therefore the exact same time gap from the events the Gospels are reporting? Or that Josephus is largely not based on eyewitness testimony? Or that we don’t have our first manuscript until the 10th century – 800 years later? Or even that that there are only about 9 manuscripts total of the Jewish Wars and just a handful of The Antiquities of the Jews?

So if we are not to trust the Gospels because they are supposedly too late (40-70 years later), not eyewitnesses (though they have all the hallmarks that they are), we don’t have originals, and our extant manuscripts come late (30 years is too late?), then why should we trust Josephus who is actually worse on all those accounts? If THOSE are the criteria, then why trust Josephus over the gospels?

Resources (date for latest revised edition):
Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (2007)
Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (2006)
Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament (2005)
Mark Roberts, Can We Trust the Gospels? (2007)
F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents (2007)
David Alan Black, Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism (2002)
Aland and Aland, The Text of the New Testament (1995)
Daniel Wallace, Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament (2011)
Robert Stewart, The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue (2011)
Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (1998)
Carson, Moo & Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (2005)


[1] 5,600 is the number of Greek versions. If we include Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syriac versions we are up to nearly 25,000. If we include citations, quotations and homilies, then we are well over 100,000.

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