The Weekly Roundup – 12.21.18

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to my readers. I’ll see you in 2019!

  • On December 31st I will have completed reading the Old Testament, New Testament, and Apocrypha in the NRSV. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve read through the Bible cover-to-cover but I can now say I’ve read through the entire NRSV! In 2019 I plan to read through the Torah and with it the study notes in the HarperCollins Study Bible. To that end, I created a plan which you can download and use if you want to read through the first five books of the Hebrew Bible too. It ends up being about half a chapter per day, a very manageable amount. Or if you want to read through the whole Bible in a year, here’s the plan I used in 2018.
  • Over at his blog The Dishonesty of Apologetics, Twitter user and blogger @Elishabenabuya has written a post on the so-called messianic prophecy found in Micah 5:2. What he shows in his blog is that the words of Micah weren’t referring to Bethlehem but to one whose lineage could be traced to Bethlehem. So then the Gospel of Matthew’s use of it as a prooftext for the messianic birthplace of Jesus is nothing more than a misreading of the text, at least as far as the MT goes. The LXX of Micah 5:2 is similar to what we find in Matthew 2:6 but even then it has its differences.
  • I am in my Greek New Testament regularly but I’m always on the lookout for reading aids and good resources to keep my knowledge of Koine Greek alive and well. One resource I found recently is the Daily Dose of Greek app which goes through a verse of the New Testament in just a couple of minutes. The app features the work of Rob Plummer, a professor New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has gone through many verses but most crucial to me is his series on Mark’s Gospel which I plan on going through in 2019.
  • Six years ago Matthew Ferguson, a PhD student in Classics at UC Irvine, posted a piece onto his blog that briefly explains why the oft-cited claim that the New Testament has a mountain of manuscripts supporting its authenticity is not all that impressive. As he shows, it has to do with context, a word that creates a sense of horror in a pop-apologist.
  • Scott Noegel, professor of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle, wrote a short piece for the website Bible Odyssey on Pharaoh. When we read biblical texts we frequently see that the Egyptian king is often unnamed (i.e. in Genesis and Exodus). Since these texts were written long after the events they describe, the biblical authors may not have known the Pharaoh’s name and therefore could not supply it. And as Noegel points out, it is also apparent that in Genesis and Exodus the authors were less interested in precise historical detail than they were in “casting [Pharaoh] as a literary type,” particularly in his godlike role in Egyptian politics and religion. He thus functions as “the antithesis to Israelite religion and the quintessential enemy of Israel.” Noegel’s is a short but excellent summary of Pharoah.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Bart Ehrman: Early Christian Scribes

Bart D. Ehrhman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 25. 

In the earliest centuries, the vast majority of copyists of the New Testament books were not trained scribes. We know this because we can examine their copies and evaluate the quality of their handwriting, and we can assess how accurately they did their work. The striking and disappointing fact is that our earliest manuscripts of the New Testament have far more mistakes and differences in them than our later ones. The earlier we go in the history of copying these texts, the less skilled and attentive the scribes appear to have been.

Michael D. Coogan: The First Stage in Bible Study

Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, third edition (Oxford University Press, 2014), 7.

A necessary first stage in the study of the Bible is to determine what its actual text is. This is immensely difficult, because thousands of manuscripts need to be compared. Moreover, even before the Jewish canon was established, many of the books that eventually ended up in it were being translated into other languages, so that those who no longer understood Hebrew could still read the sacred texts. The earliest of these ancient translations is in Greek and is known as the Septuagint, from the word for “seventy,” because according to legend some seventy translators of the Torah independently produced identical translations, thereby proving that the translation was as inspired as the original. We should assume that, like the scribes who copied Hebrew manuscripts, the Septuagint translators wanted to be as faithful as possible to the text in front of them. So studying ancient translations like the Septuagint is another path to the original. Again, however, we no longer have the first Septuagint manuscript but only copies, so these too must be compared, both with each other and with Hebrew manuscripts. Besides, translation involves interpretation, not just copying, and Hebrew and Greek words often have different nuances, so it is often uncertain what the Hebrew behind the Greek was. All this is also true of translations into other ancient languages, such as Aramaic and Latin.

Digital Hammurabi: Textual Criticism (4): Textual Criticism and the Greek New Testament

Yesterday I posted a link to the third video in Dr. Joshua Bowen’s series on the topic of textual criticism where he discussed some of the methods and rules utilized by textual critics when they engage in their craft. In the final video of the series, Dr. Bowen discusses the textual criticism of the New Testament.

Bowen utilizes NA27 which stands for “Nestle-Aland 27th edition.” The most current edition is NA28. Regardless, the formatting is the same. A glance at the critical apparatus of NA27/28 reveals that there are a lot of textual variants. This isn’t surprising given how many manuscripts of the NT that we have extant. If you go back and watch the second video of the series, Bowen explains why critical editions generally choose the readings that they do.

Digital Hammurabi: Textual Criticism (3): Textual Criticism and the Hebrew Bible

Yesterday I posted a link to the second video in Dr. Joshua Bowen’s series on the topic of textual criticism where he discussed some of the methods and rules utilized by textual critics when they engage in their craft. In the next video Bowen goes into the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible specifically.

The example he gives is from Exodus 3:14 where we read liḇ-nê yiś-rā-’êl (“to the sons/children of Israel”) and in the critical apparatus of BHS (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) you can see a note b which leads you to an alternate reading of ’el- bə-nê (“to the sons/children”). Now having the Hebrew preposition ’el rather than li doesn’t change the meaning, especially since in 3:15 you see ’el- bə-nê rather than liḇ-nê, but it does show that sometimes scribes made changes for various reasons and critical editions like BHS make note of those variations.

Digital Hammurabi: Textual Criticism (2): Methodology

Yesterday I posted a link to the first video in the series by Digital Hammurabi on textual criticism. In the second video, Dr. Bowen goes over the methods and rules textual critics use when evaluating the various manuscripts of a biblical text. For example, generally speaking, the more difficult reading is preferred because of the tendency of scribes to correct what they perceive to be errors in a text.

One example given in Stanley Porter’s and Andrew Pitts’ book Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism is from Acts 20:28 where we read, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (ESV). If you look at the critical apparatus of NA28 you will notice a note that shows that some manuscripts read “church of the Lord [tou kuriou]” rather than “church of God [tou theou].” Which reading is most likely the original?

One of the most substantial reasons that [theou] is preferred to [kuriou] here is that it is the more difficult reading and therefore can explain the origin of the variant [kuriou]. It is plausible that a scribe would correct the text from “God” to “Lord” since it may have raised questions in certain scribes’ minds how God has blood. It would seem much more natural to talk about the church being purchased with the Lord’s own blood rather than God’s blood. The question may be considered negatively as well. Why would a scribe change the text from what would seem very natural (Lord) to the more (seemingly) unnatural (God)? Therefore, reading “God” here would be more difficult for the scribe and, therefore, is more likely to be original.1

Bowen goes over some of the other rules in this video so you should take a look. And if you haven’t subscribed to his YouTube channel, you should probably get on that.


1 Stanley E. Porter & Andrew W. Pitts, Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), 117. As a side note, the NRSV renders the ending of Acts 20:28 as “the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.” This is an example of translating a verse based upon an interpretation of what it means rather than what the Greek reads. The Greek word for “son” (huios) does not appear in Acts 20:28. Rather, the phrase dia tou haimatos tou idiou literally says “through the blood his own.” Whose own? Well, the antecedent seems to be God (theou).



Digital Hammurabi: Textual Criticism (1)

Over on the YouTube channel of Digital Hammurabi, Dr. Joshua Bowen has a series of videos discussing textual criticism. For those of you unfamiliar with textual criticism, it is basically the attempt by textual critics to reconstruct what the original autograph of a piece of writing would have looked like. With regards to textual criticism of the Bible, we do not have any original autographs. What we do have are multiple copies and more often than not no two are alike. So how do we reconstruct what the original text would have said?

In this video, Dr. Bowen explains the problem using an experiment he conducted with a church at which he was once a pastor. It is a pretty good way of looking at what has happened since the original autographs of the biblical texts were written.