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Sunday Bible fun!
October 22, 2006 5:55 PM   Subscribe

The Smithsonian's Sackler gallery opened a unique and wide-ranging new exhibit yesterday featuring fragments of Bibles from before the year 1000. "Most of the manuscripts have never been seen outside the countries where they are stored. [Some Smithsonian-owned documents in the exhibition] have never been exhibited and two have not been shown since 1978." Fragments of the Codex Sinaiticus are included in the exhibit. Along with the archaeological interest, these fragments can pose theological and historical challenges for Christians. Some, like UNC's Bart Ehrman, have lost their faith as a result of studying early Bibles; some, like Luke Timothy Johnson of Emory, believing that Christianity is about a common cultural and spiritual experience, are unmoved by the "corruptions" and differences in the New Testament over time; other Christians try to refute (MeFi link) claims that the text has changed.
posted by ibmcginty (36 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
More from the Sackler's website. More on Bart Ehrman: an essay on Christianity without St. Paul; lectures on the DaVinci Code.
posted by ibmcginty at 5:55 PM on October 22, 2006


Sid Meier and Firaxis wimped out by not incorporating some the facscinating and dare-I-say-it gameworthy aspects of the evolution and competition of religions.

im in yur base convertin yur dudes
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:12 PM on October 22, 2006


Since the gospel of Mark is generally considered the original gospel, there is this former thread to consider, discussing the work of this author.
posted by Brian B. at 6:33 PM on October 22, 2006


I will totally meet any of you at the Sackler for lunch some day in the next week or so. For real--email's in my profile.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:47 PM on October 22, 2006


Ever since it came to light, Sinaiticus has been a pivotal document -- and a theological challenge -- for scholars like Ehrman. Together with a few other documents, it forms the basis for the most authoritative modern versions of the Old Testament in the original Greek. - Washington Post link

The "Old Testament" was originally written in Hebrew. So that last sentence is a bit misleading. The Sinaiticus would then be a Greek translation of the Old Testament and an early copy of the New (which was written in Koine Greek).
posted by spock at 6:55 PM on October 22, 2006


Excellent! Now all I have to do is get to Washington before January 7 ...
posted by carter at 7:20 PM on October 22, 2006


i thought it was originally aramaic?
posted by amberglow at 7:20 PM on October 22, 2006


Nice post, ibmcinty.

It was both, amberglow. More Hebrew than Aramaic.
posted by puddinghead at 7:38 PM on October 22, 2006


Last night, I spent a long time staring at the trees in front of my house. It's like it was halloween, but it wasn't halloween; those trees have seen children born that have lived and died, children that have become giants among their peers and children that have vanished without a trace. The trees are wrapped in ghosts, until you can't look at them without seeing souls floating around and between the knots that support them.

And it makes me wonder about God, and the New Testament, and the Old Testament, and all the attestments of people who are trapped in between.

I don't think there's any one book that speaks the truth to man's condition. They are all lies, serving a certain agenda, an agenda whose name be forgotten to the fickle memory of society.

Instead of the New Testament and the Old Testament and the Qu'ran and the Torah and the works of the apostles, I think the real truth lies in the trees. They've seen everything, and have the wisdom that is borne of age and experience.

Ditch those pieces of paper that tell you how to live, and listen to Mother Nature's babies.
posted by kfx at 10:31 PM on October 22, 2006


If trees could scream do you think we would be so cavalier as to cutting them down? Maybe if they screamed all the time for no good reason." - Jack Handy
posted by blue_beetle at 10:44 PM on October 22, 2006


At first I read "slacker" gallery . . .
posted by treepour at 12:32 AM on October 23, 2006


Next stop - Koranic variants.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:33 AM on October 23, 2006


Where can we find some online side-by-side English translations of some of the variants? Are there any interesting differences? Any cases in which Jesus mentions, for example, how he hates the selfishness of when people ride their asses in the passing lane, or where he has to explain that "love your neighbor as yourself" is not an invocation to mutual masturbation? Are there any differences that matter intrinsically and not because they show that the Bible has changed?
posted by pracowity at 6:18 AM on October 23, 2006


pracowity-- the link in "differences" discusses the differences across versions at the end of Mark. The "lost their faith" link notes that the "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" story was almost certainly added by later writers (I'm pretty sure that's mentioned in this very good overview interview with Ehrman on how and why the stories might have changed over time).

I don't know of any side-by-side comparisons of different versions. Maybe here, or here.

All these links in the OP and this comment, except maybe the YouTube and Washington Post ones, are from sites with more resources that you could ever use, so maybe there's something in there somewhere.
posted by ibmcginty at 7:26 AM on October 23, 2006


Next stop - Koranic variants.

ssssh!
posted by gubo at 7:49 AM on October 23, 2006


It was both, amberglow. More Hebrew than Aramaic.

"More"? Aramaic only accounts for about ten chapters of the whole. - Wikipedia (Biblical Aramaic)
posted by spock at 8:06 AM on October 23, 2006


Pracowity,

I've glanced through Ehrman's book at the bookstore, wondering the answer to that very question, and my impression is that most of the variations are pretty darn trivial. When Jesus healed some guy some versions say he was "moved with compassion" others say he was "angry". Some versions mention Jesus sweating blood in the garden the night before he died, others leave that detail out. There are a few phrases that, by themselves, some theologian could make a big deal about (did Jesus die "apart from God" or "by the grace of God"?), but in context I don't think these make much difference; most doctrines are based on more than an isolated phrase like that.

Even the two big ones, the long ending of Mark doesn't really have anything that isn't in the other Gospels (unless your church puts a lot of emphasis on snake-handling). And the story of the woman caught in adultery, do you really get a substantially different picture of Jesus if you take that story out? I don't think so.
posted by straight at 8:52 AM on October 23, 2006


Christians don't say the text was changed; it's fully acknowledged that the manuscripts were subject to minor edits and addenda in the decades after their original writing. That's why bibles have footnotes on these things.

What's disputed is dating of manuscript authorship to after the 3rd to 4th Century AD, and the fallacy that the bible has been corrupted by repeated editing and retranslation through the centuries since then. That hasn't happened, simply because any attempted or accidental corruption of the text after the establishment of the canon would be caught and corroborated by the sheer overwhelming volume of identical copies in multiple translations -- in manuscripts such as those on display at the Sackler.

NTCanon.org is my reference of choice for stuff on this.

MrMoonPie, I can't make it for lunch on a work day, but I'm so there next weekend.
posted by brownpau at 9:05 AM on October 23, 2006


Aramaic was primarily a spoken language.
Hebrew was a not-very-user-friendly written language.

I loved Ehrman's book. If more right wing religious nuts would actually read instead of "doing what the pastor told me" we'd see more of them "lose their religion" instead of jack-booting to Dobson's call.
posted by nofundy at 9:34 AM on October 23, 2006


So there was this guy I worked with who loudly proclaimed that the King James was only legitimate Bible. When I asked which of the 26 versions of King James that would be the legitimate one, he accused me of being evil. Go figure.
posted by nofundy at 9:38 AM on October 23, 2006


Is 11 Qur'an variant translations into English good enough for you, IndigoJones?
posted by DataPacRat at 9:46 AM on October 23, 2006


Thanks, brownpau, for your clarification or correction of my characterization of how some Christians try to "refute" the assertion that the text has changed; thanks also for the link to that great site.

And I agree that practically everyone realizes that the text has been changed in at least some minor forms. I first heard of the view that the "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" story was added after the original version of John from a study Bible that was otherwise extremely literalist-- ie, attributing people's long life spans in Genesis to a lack of genetic impurities.
posted by ibmcginty at 10:08 AM on October 23, 2006


And the story of the woman caught in adultery, do you really get a substantially different picture of Jesus if you take that story out? I don't think so.

I'd really hate to lose that story, straight, with Jesus squatting there, scratching something in the dirt, showing exquisite timing by making everybody wait and watch until he gives his answer. Then the magnificently theatrical one-by-one departure of the "stoners" until it's just Jesus and the lady. It's one of the most wonderfully staged and paced scenes in the Bible -- with one of the best messages. Yeah, straight, without it, I would have a substantially different picture of Jesus: a less human, three-dimensional, less intimate picture. I mean, there isn't much else in ancient literature, sacred or secular, that compares with "the woman taken in adultery" for sheer narrative compression and the power of its take-away message. "Let he who has not sinned..." probably gets quoted ten thousand times a day around the world, and for good reason.
posted by Faze at 12:35 PM on October 23, 2006


I agree it's a great story Faze. I think even Ehrman says it's probably "genuine" (meaning part of the very early oral tradition about Jesus rather than a later invention), just that it wasn't originally included in John's Gospel. (I don't know if he has any actual evidence for this -- the Jesus Seminar seems to have listed that story as genuine just because they like the story.)

But you've got other stories in the gospels with very similar themes - Jesus was known for having dinner with "sinners," he allows the woman of poor reputation to wash his feet and tells off the Pharasee who takes offense in a similar way (Jesus seems to imply that if the Pharasee understood how much he needed forgiveness then he would act the way the woman was acting). It's not like someone tried to create a substantially different picture of Jesus by slipping this story into John's gospel, which is the impression you get from the dust covers of Ehrman's books.
posted by straight at 3:20 PM on October 23, 2006


It's not like someone tried to create a substantially different picture of Jesus by slipping this story into John's gospel, which is the impression you get from the dust covers of Ehrman's books.

For clarification, most scholars see the whole story coming from a main textual source, who was not a witness, and there is no proven direct evidence that Jesus ever lived or said or did anything. The oral theory doesn't fit either assumption. This would be a long discussion, but most Christians have erroneously assumed the contrary.
posted by Brian B. at 5:20 PM on October 23, 2006


I forgot to make my point, above, which was that differences were thus welcome in the differing texts, said to be from different sources.
posted by Brian B. at 5:24 PM on October 23, 2006


Instead of the New Testament and the Old Testament and the Qu'ran and the Torah and the works of the apostles, I think the real truth lies in the trees.

Trees can't talk. People can talk and look what they talk about. Who's to say what is the real truth??
posted by Laugh_track at 6:11 PM on October 23, 2006


For clarification, most scholars see the whole story coming from a main textual source, who was not a witness, and there is no proven direct evidence that Jesus ever lived or said or did anything.

That's just ridiculous. The only sense in which that could be true would have to say there's no proven direct evidence that anyone from that time period ever lived or said or did anything.
posted by straight at 7:36 AM on October 24, 2006


Jesus Was A Capricorn

He ate organic food

He had long hair and a beard and he never wore no shoes
posted by nofundy at 10:12 AM on October 24, 2006


That's just ridiculous. The only sense in which that could be true would have to say there's no proven direct evidence that anyone from that time period ever lived or said or did anything.

I think there is direct evidence for John the Baptist, but not for Jesus. That's why all the real fuss over the fake ossuary and shroud. Jesus just doesn't "exist" in the record in the same way that Alexander or Socrates need to "exist" in order to explain the rest of the historical record (to use a favorite Christian counterexample). To the contrary. By the way, I'm well aware how the debate plays out from here (to Christians insisting that disputed Josephus quotes are reliable).
Go here for a brief intro.
posted by Brian B. at 11:18 AM on October 24, 2006


By the way, I'm well aware how the debate plays out from here (to Christians insisting that disputed Josephus quotes are reliable).

I wasn't thinking of Josephus, I was thinking that there is no plausible account of the origins of Christianity that posits an entirely fictional Jesus of Nazareth. Even if you think the Gospels are mostly hagiography, it's hard to believe the Christian movement and the stories of Jesus that went with it could have got off the ground with there having been a Jesus wandering around first-century Palestine.
posted by straight at 9:43 AM on October 26, 2006


straight-- I argued along similar lines at one point, and was directed to this site-- the two-source hypothesis.

I guess the argument that Jesus didn't exist goes, there were initially two sources for this story, and there were loads of apocalyptic Jewish prophets running around in Jesus' time, so someone patched together a legend based on a composite. Brian B's link links to this argument that Jesus was not an historical figure.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:16 PM on October 26, 2006




I wasn't thinking of Josephus, I was thinking that there is no plausible account of the origins of Christianity that posits an entirely fictional Jesus of Nazareth. Even if you think the Gospels are mostly hagiography, it's hard to believe the Christian movement and the stories of Jesus that went with it could have got off the ground with there having been a Jesus wandering around first-century Palestine.


I don't see it. Christianity evolved from pagan origins, beginning with Osiris, through Dionysus, but which went other directions too and later brought competitors such as Mithraism. However, people naturally believe that any movement, no matter how much based on a demigod, must have started with the "human" founder who is given credit for it. This is natural because we assume nobody would give up the chance to take the credit. The other problem is that the Jews were worshiping a messiah, who was very late in coming. If he never showed at all, a little story here or there of his having arrived unnoticed would suffice to create his movement, which went completely unrecorded while he was supposedly alive. This also explains why his second-coming is necessary, because he never came in the first place.
posted by Brian B. at 9:11 AM on October 28, 2006


beginning with Osiris...

Oops, wrong.
posted by brownpau at 6:17 AM on October 30, 2006


brownpau, anti-parallels to deny parallels? I can't think of anything more desperate. The religion of burial and rebirth is the evolution of cereal grain and grape agriculture ritualized onto the labor itself. A Christian denies everything because there can only be one savior, or it becomes a choice, and the religion is monotheistic. That's also the historical problem creeping into religion--causing the mythical claims of religion to become historical in order to be taken literally.

Such was the great god-man Osiris: human like us, and thus able to take upon himself all our sorrow, but also divine, and therefore able to confer divinity upon us. He brought the divine bread from heaven, he taught justice and practiced mercy; he died, was buried, and rose from the grave; he gave to all who became members of his mystical body his flesh to eat and his blood to drink so that this divine sacrament might transfigure them into celestial gods; he went before to prepare mansions for his initiates in Elysium; and he was to be the just and merciful judge before whom men and women must appear beyond the grave. (Martin Larson, The Story of Christian Origins, 23)
posted by Brian B. at 8:53 AM on October 30, 2006


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