Theodicius

Good. Evil. Bratwurst.

What got left out?

Posted on by arlen

I’m going to start getting into this topic a bit more, because, frankly, I’m tired of hearing about it from the mushy-minded who believe everything they’re told, as long as it’s derogative of the Bible:

“xxx (name your favorite idea) was dropped from the Bible because the church leaders were hostile to it.”

Let’s talk about the editing practice that went in to the current books in the Bible. We’ll leave out the Apochypha, because the original council didn’t grant them full scriptural status; that didn’t happen until the brew-up with Martin Luther about a millenium later.

Since Erasmus compiled the Textus Receptus (all six different editions of it) we’ve uncovered a boatload of manuscripts from all over the region, giving us looks at the 66 books at various stages going back, in the opinion of one scholar, 1900 years, and in the opinion of a majority of scholars, going back 17-1800 years. Is there even one documented case in the manuscript record of something substantial being dropped?

Not that I’m aware of. (I’m sure those of you with contrary opinions will weigh in on this, and I’m willing to look at the evidence. But don’t expect me to accept just because you say it happened. I want the evidence; I don’t want justifications for assumptions of facts not in evidence.)

There’s the case of Long Mark/Short Mark. But that fails on two counts:

1) The extra bits in Long Mark are in concord with material already in other Gospels, so its disappearance doesn’t cause anything to actually be lost.

2) Current thinking is Short Mark came first, so far from being an example of material being excised, it’s an example of material being added.

And that’s the crux. There is documentary evidence to support additions, but not subtractions to the text. And the documentary evidence suggests that even those changes are not significant in nature. They contain nothing new, but rather seem to indicate that a copyist has become accustomed to writing a specific text pattern, and when the pattern is missing or incomplete, either intentionally or unconsciously adds the complete pattern to the work currently being copied.

So when someone tells you thus-and-so was removed from scripture because the church leaders found it offensive, your first question should be to ask for any evidence of it happening. I’m betting the response you’re going to get will be “there isn’t any; they suppressed/destroyed it all.”

And that will be your cue to toss the idea into history’s dustbin. The idea is nothing more than a pleasant speculation. Right now there is in vogue in places a theory of history put forth by a couple of Russian mathematicians called The New Chronology, the bald formulation of it being that everything you think you know about history is wrong, and has been rewritten recently. There’s list of reasons, but the basic tenet is all history is unreliable. If you accept an idea in the complete absence of evidence, you may as well go whole hog and accept that every event you didn’t personally witness didn’t happen the way you were told it happened. That’s where that viewpoint leads. Problem being, of course, is that it also means that your own pet idea, the one you so desperately wanted to believe was once in the Bible but isn’t anymore, has an equal probability to have not happened either, because those voicing support of it are no more reliable than those voicing opposition.

So when you try and kick the legs out from under the Bible, you kick your own out as well. To believe that something significant has been intentionally dropped from the Bible, you have to ignore more documentary evidence to the contrary than you can possibly amass in support of it. There’s a word for that in biblical scholarship: eisegesis. It means reading into a text something that isn’t there, something that you, as the interpreter of the text, bring to the text from outside. Lots of people do that with scripture, I can’t deny that. Lots of people are wrong. Eisegesis can be fun and entertaining, it isn’t good scholarship.

The Bible can show a long chain of documentary evidence displaying how little it has changed in two millenia. At this point, to suspect otherwise is akin to suspecting that this time, when I jump up high, I’ll not come down.

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