Monday, January 21, 2008

Getting Lost

Sorry ‘bout that. Elsewhere I happened to touch on the topic of Textual Criticism, and since it had been a bit, decided to “refresh” my memory on the subject. And, just like the times before, I find myself totally immersed, only to emerge back to daylight, discovering a week has gone by with nothing else productively made.

And my inbox informing me has auto-confirmed my order. I swear I don’t remember ordering more books!

It’s funny how we blithely toss out the term: “the Bible” as if it was one cohesive book. I suspect 99% of my readers (a completely made up statistic, and therefore as accurate as any other) when they hear the term “Bible” think of the 66 Books of the Protestant Bible, bound in one flexible cover of semi-synthetic leather. You know—Genesis to Revelation, demarcated by “Old Testament” and “New Testament.”

As Christians we thought of it as “one book” because it had one ultimate moving force behind it—God. Oh, we understood it was written by different authors, with different perspectives, at different times—but in the end it was a cohesive whole. So when we said the Bible self-declared to be “inspired,” even though this term is found in only one sub-book, (2 Timothy), we considered applicable to the entire book. Page 1 to 1120. (Not including the Color Maps in the back, of course.)

As a non-believer, I have lost that concept of an entirety. Each book (and in some books like Isaiah, each portion of a book) rises and falls on its own. As a Christian, I worked to align the doctrines of James and Romans. ‘Cause this was all “one book.” I worked to align the stories of 2 Samuel with 1 Chronicles, or John with Matthew. ‘Cause this was all “one book.” Now, such differences are not even note-worthy. They are shrugged off as anticipated.

It is the difference between an Isaac Asimov anthology and Star Trek. I enjoyed reading Asimov’s collection of short stories from various science fiction writers. But as I read them, I did not expect them to align. I realized one author may have robots with artificial intelligence, and another may write a story about robots never being able to obtain such intelligence. Why? Because it was two different authors.

While Star Trek’s episodes may have different writers, we expected a cohesive “wholeness” about the story. The Prime Directive was not something new each week. The ship did not change shape or designation from show to show. There was “oneness” about Star Trek. In fact, this gives rise to the stereotype of Trekkies arguing over incongruities between certain episodes because of that expected uniformity.

Exactly like the arguments attempting to align the incongruities of doctrines between the Epistles, or the historical claims of the Gospels. In Trekkies is it amusing; in Christians it is in dead seriousness.

When looking at the individual books, I enjoy studying the interplay between the books utilizing each other (Matthew and Luke using Mark; 2 Peter using Jude), I enjoy studying the development of the canon itself, and…obviously…I enjoy studying the variances which crept in when the copies were made. Textual Criticism.

Luckily, we have numerous copies (of copies of copies). Unfortunately, we don’t have much close to the time of the initial writing. And all these copies, when compared, show us the changes, some subtle, some not so subtle over time. What they hint at are the changes which may have entered during the first 100 years copies were made.

We often hear the term, “This is the original” or “We are 99% certain as to the original” but this is really a misnomer. We really are only reaching back to the first copy (of a copy of a copy) from which all other copies sprung. Whether it is “the original” or a mis-handled copy of the original is unknown.

Here is an interesting example. Mark 1:9 is the first Gospel reference to Jesus, referring to him as “Jesus of Nazareth of Galilee.” The early manuscripts have Nazarei while the later manuscripts modify the iota at the end to a theta making it Nazareth. Nothing shocking or surprising here.

However, what becomes more perplexing is the fact Mark refers to Jesus of Nazareth four (4) other times, yet in Mark 1:24, 14:67 and 16:6 it is Nazarenos and in Mark 10:47 is it Nazoraios. (Note, Nazoraios is the same word used in Acts 24:5 when it says “sect of the Nazarenes.”) In other words, all of the other times Mark refers to Jesus, in the Greek it is actually saying, “Jesus the Nazarene.” (I’ll bet your Bible, though, translates it to “Jesus of Nazareth,” doesn’t it?)

Further, Mark never uses a double identification, like “Nathanal of Cana in Galilee” (John 21:2). Mark also implies Jesus was from Capernaum (note the term “the house” in Mark 2:1). And, a person from Nazareth would be a Nazarethite or a Nazarethene. Not a Nazarene. That would be a person from Nazara.

Finally, Matthew, when copying Mark, comes across the term nazoraios, presumes it means Jesus was from Nazareth, creates a prophecy, and introduces Jesus’ home town of Nazareth. Matt. 2:23.

In my opinion, it is more likely Mark referred to Jesus as “Jesus the Nazarene” four times. When Matthew was drawing the story from Mark, uncertain as to the term Nazoraios, and being aware of the town of Nazareth in Galilee, Matthew eagerly creates a prophecy, “He shall be called Nazarene” and just as eagerly creates a fulfillment: “Because he was from Nazareth.”

And later, as some scribe was copying Mark, they came to Mark 1:9 and inserted “of Nazarei” for clarification. Voila—we have “Jesus of Nazareth of Galilee” in our modern English Translations.

Now, that was more an exercise in Higher Criticism than Textual Criticism, but I did it to demonstrate we cannot utilize Textual Criticism to get to the “original.” It would appear “of Nazareth” was not in the original Mark 1:9, yet all our copies of Mark included it.

Simply put, Mark was modified due to interplay with Matthew before numerous copies were made. Yet Textual Criticism only takes us back to this modification—not to the original.

And this is one word in one verse in one book of the entire Bible. Ay Caramba!


  1. One would expect better were an omnipotent, omniscient god were to exist and make a single attempt to communicate the most important information necessary to human salvation to iron age savages.

  2. Nazareth, Nashville, whatever... don't you think it's ALL inspired, from the beginning to end, the authors and translators, the robots and maps, even the mistakes and your interpretations? Couldn't it all be part of one master plan? For all we know way back then they could've called people from Nazareth "hillbillies"

  3. not that I'm dissing hillbillies, it's just what popped in my head. sorry.

  4. Facinating post, dagoods. I found an explanation here that follows what my bible study materials had regarding Matthew 2:23.

    One difference from your post is that there is a growing consensus that Matthew was originally writing in Aramaic, then translating to Greek. Thus the lost gospel source "Q" for Greek Mark and Matthew could very well be Matthew's Aramaic version. Below is an excerpt. What is your opinion on the info?

    The prophets used various metaphors to refer to this anticipated revival of the ideal monarchy to replace the corrupt kings of the day, including "servant" (Haggai, Isaiah), "signet ring" (Haggai), "shepherd" (Micah, Ezekiel), or simply "David" (Amos). But in all three of the above examples, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah also use the term "branch" as a metaphor to refer to the new king that God would raise up from the line of David (Isa 4:2, 11:1, Jer 23:5, Zech 3:8, 6:12). The metaphor is most clearly expressed in Isaiah 11:1: There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

    In Hebrew, the word "branch" is netzer, actually only three consonantal letters: NZR. Note that the town NaZaReth contains the same three primary letters (plus an ending often attached to nouns). In the Aramaic form of Nazareth, (Aramaic was the common language spoken by most Israelites after the exile; some have suggested that the entire book of Matthew was originally written in Aramaic rather than Greek), it comes very close in sound to the Hebrew word for "branch."

    It seems, then, that Matthew was not at all "mistaken" in this Old Testament reference, although he was certainly not exegeting Isaiah. He was identifying the obscure Galilean town of Nazareth in which Jesus grew up with the OT reference to a netzer God would raise up to bring justice and righteousness and peace to His people. In other words, this was the means Matthew used to identify Jesus, even as a child returning to an obscure town in remote Galilee ("can any good thing come from Nazareth?" -John 1:47), as the "King" from the line of David whom God had finally raised up to restore His people.

  5. Jim Jordan,

    Now we’re starting to think!

    As far as I am aware the vast, VAST majority of Biblical scholars understand both Matthew and Mark were originally written in Greek. There are a few who argue for an Aramaic or Hebrew proto-Matthew (“pre-Matthew”) which contained the sayings statements utilized by both Matthew in writing the Greek Matthew and Luke—but I am not aware of scholars who indicate a proto-Matthew of Aramaic containing historical events utilized by Matthew in writing Greek Matthew and Mark in writing Greek Mark. There certainly is nothing akin to a “consensus.” (If there was a “consensus” in anything it would be a Greek Matthew and Greek Mark.)

    If you have any links to this (what can only be called a fringe) theory, I would be interested in them. And how they address the problems of Mark’s utilization of Greek form, the literary dependence of two apparent translations, and the problem of Aramaic sayings in Mark compared to Matthew.

    As to this article, it makes the silly (and I apologize, but there is no other word as I will shortly demonstrate) argument that an English transliteration of a Hebrew word being similar to an English transliteration of a Greek word means the Hebrew word and Greek word are similar.

    It is obvious (yet sometimes forgotten) the Greek alphabet and the Hebrew alphabet are made up of symbols unlike our English letters. Probably the most famous being the symbol for “pi” which we remember from math class—the squiggly line with two descending lines. If you look at your keyboard, you will not see keys with the Greek symbols or keys with the Hebrew symbols. To communicate, therefore, what a Greek word is, we “transliterate”—that is, substitute an English letter for the Greek letter: an “a” for alpha, “b” for beta and so on.

    The transliteration is NOT a translation, and without a knowledge of Greek would be as unintelligible as seeing the original Greek. Taking a common example, there is a Greek word consisting of alpha-gamma-alpha-pi-eta. In the Greek it looks like a sideways 8 with the top cut off, an upside-down bolo tie, another cut-off sideways 8, a squiggly line with two descending lines, and what appears to be an “n.” The transliteration of that word is “agape” whereas the translation of that word is “love.”

    Got the difference? Now look at the common transliteration of Hebrew. “Branch” consists of three Hebrew Letters, a Nun, Tsade and Resh. (Vowels in Hebrew do not stand as separate letters. The reason God is written “YHWH” but we translate it to “Yahweh.”) The article states we transliterate this word “NZR” however, we would pronounce it “netzer.” One may immediately question what happened to the “t”? Why isn’t it transliterated to “NTZR”? Because it is only three letters, and the Tsade is transliterated to “Z.”

    Here’s where it gets fun. The Tsade of Hebrew is almost invariably transliterated to a sigma (“s”) in Greek. If Matthew was intending to make an illusion to branch (“NZR”) he would have referred to “NaSareth” not “NaZareth.” Hence, the article’s comparison of the English transliteration of the Hebrew word “NZR” to the English transliteration of the Greek word “NaZaReth” is…well…silly. I somehow doubt Matthew thought, “Gee, some day the English will transliterate the “zeta” to a “Z” and the “Tsade” to a “Z” so they will get the connection, even though my audience transliterates the “Tsade” to a “Sigma” (“s”) and will completely miss the point.”

    Kinda like the difference between “seal” and “zeal” or “sap” and “zap.”

    I would also note the article fails to address the problem of a person from Nazareth would NOT be called a “Nazarene” since the name would include the entire town--nazarethnos or nazaretaios.

    Sorry, but this is merely apologetic nonsense, attempting to pacify the person in the pew as to the difficulties presented in these various terms. Most probably buy it, ‘cause they want to. Some study raises the question as to how viable this apologetic is.

    Thanks for pointing out the article though, Jim Jordan. (Do you see why I get lost in this stuff? Quite a bit of fun in digging through it!)

    (Material for this comment obtained from this post.)

  6. I'll look into this some more and get back to you. Thanks for the infidels link.