Sunday, January 29, 2006

Ehrman, Textual Criticism and Historical Jesus

Several criticisms have been raised against Bart Ehrman's book Misquoting Jesus. Another salvo comes from Mark Roberts over at his webpage which is worth perusing.

I've been chewing this over in my mind and I think there is a certain contradiction in Ehrman's scholarship. On the one hand, he argues that the transmission of the NT is allegedly fraught with endemic corruption and limitless textual variation. One cannot even speak of the Word of God because we do not have the words of God, we do not have access to the original autographs, and (I would add this point) therefore we do not have access to the events in the life of Jesus and the early church that the original autographs referred to. The problem is that Ehrman continues to write books on the historical Jesus and Paul, Peter and Mary which is only possible if the textual transmission process has some integrity, if the autographs are reconstructable, and if those autographs did contain a window into the life of Jesus and the early church. Ehrman is trying to tell us that the NT transmission process has no clothes (like the Emperor), but continues writing books about topics that depend on a reliable manuscript witness. He can't have it both ways!

Otherwise, Mark Goodacre recommends David Parker's book The Living Text of the Gospels (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) for beginners. I prefer Bruce M. Metzger's volume, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005) as the best place to start. I've also found a useful summary of recent debates in Eckhard J. Schnabel, "Textual Criticism: Recent Developments," Scot McKnight & Grant R. Osborne, eds., The Face of New Testament Students (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House 2004), 59-75. Something else worth considering for beginners is Bart D. Ehrman & Michael William Holmes, eds., The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis: A Volume in Honor of B.M. Metzger (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2001). Otherwise I recommend people check out the list of textual-criticism resources at Bible Studies.


Jan Krans said...

Nice slip, really, for someone who sees them every day: "The Face of the New Testament Students".

Christopher Shell said...

Surely the degree of ms contradiction is no greater or lesser than for other documents.

Hope BE is resisting the temptation to bolster popular stereotypes; sales figures suggest h has succeeded in doing so, whether inadvertently or not.