Wednesday, August 04, 2010

more on "anti-adoptionistic" corruptions of scripture

As I mentioned in my previous post,  one of the problems confronting Ehrman's argument regarding specifically anti-adoptionistic changes in NT manuscripts is (and this is a little embarrassing!) identifying specifically anti-adoptionistic changes in NT manuscripts. Ehrman discusses a number of candidates under a handful of classifications, including changes that (i) resist acknowledging Joseph as Jesus' father, (ii) avoid calling Jesus "chosen," (iii) explicitly affirm Jesus as Son of God before his baptism, and (iv) blur the distinction between God and Jesus (while resisting a complete identification between Jesus and the Father). But the problem is that Ehrman never establishes the connection between some of the variants he adduces and polemics over adoptionist christologies.

Certainly Ehrman proposes that anti-adoptionist tendencies "may have effected" (95; my emphasis) this or that variant, or a change was introduced into a manuscript "presumably to mitigate its potentially adoptionistic overtones" (71; my emphasis). But his emphasis on the potential of scribal variants to function within the christological debates of the second- through fifth-centuries CE provides Ehrman with a too-easy out. What Ehrman's thesis needs is some criteria for determine whether or not this or that variant actually was motivated by theological considerations, and especially the specific theological considerations being discussed. In some (many?) instances the connections between theological debate and manuscript tradition are fairly plausible; in others they're a bit of a stretch. For example, in my view, the change in Vaticanus at Acts 10.37—in which μετὰ τὸ βάπτισμα ὃ ἐκήρυξεν Ἰωάννης ("after the baptism that John proclaimed") becomes μετὰ τὸ κήρυγμα ὃ ἐκήρυξεν Ἰωάννης ("after the proclamation that John proclaimed")—has nothing to do with anti-adoptionist polemics.1 I'm not arguing that the text of NT documents was more stable than Ehrman suggests (though I have some quibbles in this regard, which I'll mention presently); but his explanatory model for the variation that does exist among the manuscripts breaks down, in some places quite dramatically.

But that brings us back to the question of the stability of NT traditions. I remember reading the latest edition of Metzger's classic The Text of the New Testament a couple years ago and being struck by how easily the discussion slipped between discussing changes in a particular manuscript (or manuscript tradition) and characterizing the tradition itself as fluid.2 In other words, just because this or that scribe changed the text he was transcribing does not mean that the tradition, embodied in multiple manuscripts across the ancient world, had been corrupted. Sometimes a corruption will become regionally dominant; Ehrman even argues that, "[i]n several passages (e.g., Mark 1:1 and Luke 3:22) [orthodox] corruptions virtually displaced the original text" (1993: 97). But in the main changes in one manuscript did not effect changes to the tradition itself, and very often corruptions were undone when a manuscript was corrected.3 But clearly we know, despite "the orthodox corruption of scripture," that Luke 2.33 explicitly refers to Joseph as "his [viz., Jesus'] father" [ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ], despite "the majority of Greek manuscripts . . . along with a number of Old Latin, Syriac, and Coptic witnesses" (55) that replace "his father" with "Joseph" [Ἰωσὴφ].

Again, I'm not suggesting that the text of NT documents was more stable than Ehrman is arguing; clearly the wording varied from manuscript to manuscript for various and sundry reasons. But I would make two suggestions: First, perhaps we ought to seek the tradition's "stability" somewhere other than in its wording. What the text said about Jesus was more important than the words used to say it. This is a difficult distinction, especially in a cultural situation such as ours where print and electronic technology makes exact verbal reproduction a commonplace. But this distinction, I think, matters, and it matters a lot. Second, I think we need to get some sense of scope as we examine the manuscript data. If Ehrman is right that the original opening to Mark's gospel, for example, did not contain the words υἱοῦ θεοῦ ["s/Son of God"], then the dominance of that reading among the extant manuscripts may justify Ehrman's ambitious title, the orthodox corruption of scripture. But for most of the variants Ehrman analyzes we are dealing with something significantly more mundane: the orthodox corruption of this-or-that [group of] scriptural manuscript[s]. Sure, it's less sexy as a title, but it does help us understand better what we're actually dealing with here.

1 To be sure, Ehrman's discussion of Acts 10.37 in Vaticanus is part of a larger argument and is not focused on 10.37 alone. He's actually more interested in v. 38 and a variant found in Bezae as well as Old Latin, Syriac, and Middle Egyptian manuscripts (see pp. 68–69). But Ehrman finds confirmation of his interpretation of this variant by turning to the reading of v. 37 in Vaticanus.

2 Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (fourth edition; London and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005 [1964]). I have not read earlier editions of this book; I admit baldly that I am assuming certain features stem more from Ehrman's thorough revision of Metzger's text. If I were publishing these opinions in a more formal setting (rather than on my own blog), I would need to document whether the "slippage" under consideration appears only in the fourth edition or was also present in earlier editions. Of course, I see this "slippage" at work also in Ehrman 1993.

3 Corruptions were also introduced into manuscripts by later correctors, and even corrections were subject to later emendation (see, e.g., the text of Heb. 1.3 in Vaticanus). But that doesn't undermine the point I'm making. Changes introduced into one manuscript were not necessarily ultimate corruptions of that manuscript, let alone of the NT tradition it attests!


Rich Griese said...

Hey Rafael,

Are you a supernaturalist? Do you believe in the existence of gods? Do you believe that a character we know of as jesus was a historical or mythical character?

Cheers! RichGriese.NET

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