Codex Sinaiticus
July 6, 2009 12:31 PM   Subscribe

The oldest Christian Bible in the world. The various parts of the Codex Sinaiticus have been assembled for the first time since the mid-fourth century (but only online). Among several variations from the King James, its New Testament includes the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas.
posted by msalt (49 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
So is this one the perfect and inerrant one, then?
posted by rokusan at 12:36 PM on July 6, 2009 [7 favorites]


Wikipedia also has a good history of the manuscript as well as a detailed list of lacunae and variations.
posted by msalt at 12:38 PM on July 6, 2009


Neat, but it's no Codex Gigas.
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:46 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have been reading about this - it is really interesting to listen to fundamentalists try to speak to it.

One of the responses was something along the lines of "the Devil planted the Sinaiticus to temp later Christians away from the True Word of the King James" No joke.

Thanks for this. Good stuff.
posted by Tchad at 1:28 PM on July 6, 2009


I cannot even begin to comprehend why anyone, Christian or atheist or anything else, would think that an ancient manuscript that includes some books that didn't make the final cut would present a problem for Christianity. Of course not every bit of religious literature was going to be canonized, but of course (again) a variety of books was going to be copied down and preserved through the centuries. I hate it when an interesting bit of textual criticism gets overshadowed by silly surprise over an ancient table of contents.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 1:36 PM on July 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


Look here -- if the King James version of the bible was good enough for Jesus, then it's good enough for me.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:38 PM on July 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Oh no, there ain't no rest for the wicked until we close our eyes for good." A fun read.
posted by jadepearl at 1:47 PM on July 6, 2009


Fascinating.

He delivers to Hermas a series of precepts (mandata, entolai), which form an interesting development of early Christian ethics. One point which deserves special mention is the assertion of a husband's obligation to take back an adulterous wife on her repentance. The eleventh mandate, on humility, is concerned with false prophets who desire to occupy the first seats (that is to say, among the presbyters).

How very different Christianity and the English-speaking nations could have become, if only Hermas had ended up in the KJV. Consider Command II:

HE said unto me, Be innocent and without disguise; so shalt thou be like an infant who knows no malice which destroys the life of man.
2 Especially see that thou speak evil of none, nor willingly hear any one speak evil of others.
3 For if thou observest not this, thou also who hearest shall be partaker of the sin of him that speaketh evil, by believing the slander, and thou also shalt have sin, because thou believedst him that spoke evil of thy brother.
4 Detraction is a pernicious thing; an inconstant, evil spirit; that never continues in peace, but is always in discord. Wherefore refrain thyself from it, and keep peace ever more with thy brother.
5 Put on an holy constancy, in which there are no sins, but all is full of joy; and do good of thy labours.
6 Give without distinction to all that are in want, not doubting to whom thou givest.
7 But give to all, for God will have us give to all, of all his own gifts. They therefore that receive shall give an account to God, both wherefore they received and for what end.
8 And they that receive without real need, shall give an account for it; but he that gives shall be innocent.
9 For he has fulfilled his duty as he received it from God; not making any choice to whom he should give, and to whom not. And this service he did with simplicity and to the glory of God.
10 Keep therefore this command according as I have delivered it into thee: that thy repentance nay be found to be sincere, and that good may come to thy house; and have a pure heart.

Does that remind anyone else of the MetaFilter "code of conduct"? :D

Command V, 7: And now, says he, I understand first of all what belongs to faith. There are two angels with man; one of righteousness, the other of iniquity.
This could be the origin of the motif of the angel and devil on the shoulders.

Command XIII, 10: To minister to the widows; not to despise the fatherless and poor; to redeem the servants of God from necessity; to be hospitable (for in hospitality there is sometimes great fruit); not to be contentious, but be quiet.

11 To be humble above all men; to reverence the aged; to labour to be righteous; to respect the brotherhood; to bear affronts; to be long-suffering; not to cast away those that have fallen from the faith, but to convert them, and make them be of good cheer: to admonish sinners; not to oppress those that are our debtors; and all other things of a like kind.

I wonder how old the Prosperity Gospel heresy is, to inspire so many refutations over the centuries.

Oh, what might have been.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:00 PM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Pater Aletheias I cannot even begin to comprehend why anyone, Christian or atheist or anything else, would think that an ancient manuscript that includes some books that didn't make the final cut would present a problem for Christianity.

Certainly it's not a problem for Christianity as a whole; the doctrinal inertia that surrounds the KJV and subsequent translations at this point will certainly keep those books as the canon of not just mainstream Protestantism, but almost all fringe Protestantism as well. And the Catholics and Orthodox branches have their own strong top-down dogmatism to prevent any canon forking.

Whether it's a problem for individual Christians is their own decision to make. Certainly the argument can be raised--because the history shows--that the specific texts in the KJV are there for political reasons chosen by men, that there were other texts at the time and before which have an equal claim to inspiration by God (and equally, not inspired by God, but written by men for their own reasons), and in summary, that Biblical inerrancy is an excuse to not have to exercise judgment.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:10 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I cannot even begin to comprehend why anyone, Christian or atheist or anything else, would think that an ancient manuscript that includes some books that didn't make the final cut would present a problem for Christianity.

If your version of Christianity includes Biblical inerrancy, it might present a pretty big problem, don't you think?
posted by msalt at 2:15 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I cannot even begin to comprehend why anyone, Christian or atheist or anything else, would think that an ancient manuscript that includes some books that didn't make the final cut would present a problem for Christianity.

Not for Christianity in general, but it definitely presents some problems for anyone who treats the Bible as the literal word of God and want to follow the most faithful reconstruction of those words. If, for example, some lost section of the US Constitution or other important legal or governmental document was found, it would certainly be a big deal for anyone trying to follow and interpret the words of the original document and the intent of the people who wrote it.

In Islam the Qur'an itself is relatively short, leaving up a lot of practical questions about how Muslims should go about their daily lives. So, as a kind of supplemental set of beliefs, there exists hadith, which are additional records of the statements or actions of Muhammad. Since these records are not officially part of the Qur'an (and were originally passed on only as oral tradition), it's tough to reach consensus on which are factually true. Muslims scholars developed their own systems for tracking and verifying hadith, and these days some of the biggest theological differences between different Islamic sects are what sets of hadith they consider to be valid. So the questioning of the validity of specific current beliefs and practices based on newly-found religious texts that contradict or ammend them would not be at all alien to Islamic tradition.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:19 PM on July 6, 2009


This is amazing. A great interface and high quality scans. It's a little slow at the moment, but I'll bet their servers are getting slammed. The National Library of Israel has a similar site with digitized hebrew manuscripts, including a very early pentateuch, the Damascus Keter. The 10th century Aleppo Codex, one of the oldest and most complete manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible is also available online, though not in a format that aids scholarship. It's the zoom features here, the multiple light sources and the transcription that make this an outstanding resource.

This is the future of scholarship. There is literally no technical reason why similar presentations of other biblical manuscripts, the Dead Sea Scrolls and apocryphal texts couldn't be put online. The scanning has already been done, in most cases. Only copyright, funding and disciplinary inertia stand in the way. I hope that projects like this will grab the scholarly imagination, though, since the benefits to specialists and non-specialists alike would be phenomenal.

As a teacher of biblical languages, I have simple online resources like this to help my students make the transition from basic grammar work to more in-depth textual analysis. If comparable versions of the manuscripts were readily available, you'd see people becoming much more savvy about their tradition's sacred texts. At the moment, obtaining this sophistication is an elite activity, requiring a lot of technical training and professional guidance in assembling a good library. If it were easier to make the transition from basic reading competency in Hebrew or Greek to engagement with the complicated manuscript tradition, you wouldn't see everyone becoming a biblical scholar overnight, obviously. But I think you'd find a much more mature relationship to sacred text developing over time.

I'd like to believe that, with the democratization of these manuscripts, people would begin to recognize that the texts which form the fundament of their traditions are the products of human hands. They stand at far remove from the moment of revelation and are subject to the same fragility and distortion that attends any human creation. If one believes in special divine revelation in history, this messy manuscript traditions stands as a profound witness to the necessity of employing logic and reason in the process of divining that revelation. For those who do not think that a god has spoken to humans in this way, these manuscripts still record a centuries-long conversation between scholars, historians, scribes and laity. This literary conversation is one of the more beautiful and subtle legacies of our culture and ought to be available to anyone who has the will to explore it.

In either case, and I don't believe I'm overstating things here, projects like this help to complete the work of the Enlightenment. If Hobbes and Spinoza could see this, I am certain they'd be powerfully pleased.
posted by felix betachat at 2:23 PM on July 6, 2009 [14 favorites]


I cannot even begin to comprehend why anyone, Christian or atheist or anything else, would think that an ancient manuscript that includes some books that didn't make the final cut

It's the concept of a human editor that they have a problem with.
posted by rokusan at 2:45 PM on July 6, 2009


Hey, wait, this one says it's OK to be gay.
posted by klangklangston at 2:47 PM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


And the Catholics and Orthodox branches have their own strong top-down dogmatism to prevent any canon forking.

The Catholics and Orthodox do not believe that the Bible is the word of God, or that the stories presented in the old testament are literally true. It is understood at least in those denominations that the New Testament was written by men long after the circumstances described. They do not believe those authors were possessed by God, or that God wrote through them. They also know that to the extent that these authors attempted to record what Jesus said, even that is a translation, as Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Greek or Latin.

And in any case, it's not like this manuscript was a big secret.
posted by Pastabagel at 3:00 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


How very different Christianity and the English-speaking nations could have become, if only Hermas had ended up in the KJV.

The thing is that by the time the KJV came around, these questions had been long-settled. In the west, the Old Testament based on a Hebrew translation became the norm (rather than via the Septuagint) because of the Vulgate. The deuterocanonical books had been pretty firmly rejected by Martin Luther, and his view was adopted by the rest of protestantism. Books like the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas were pretty firmly out of the canon a couple of decades after the Codex Sinaiticus was finished.

It would have been a pretty fascinating turn in the history of Protestantism if they had decided to rethink the canon from scratch, though.
posted by deanc at 3:04 PM on July 6, 2009


Maybe I'm reading the site wrong, but it sounds like the book was only separated when Tischendorf nabbed some pages in the mid-19th century. Still, fascinating post. thanks!
posted by nangua at 3:18 PM on July 6, 2009



I'd like to believe that, with the democratization of these manuscripts, people would begin to recognize that the texts which form the fundament of their traditions are the products of human hands.


So? Why do atheists have such a problem with this? Christians aren't jews or muslims. The New Testament is not a book of rules. Every Christian I know knows that the Old and New Testaments were written by imperfect people who wrote it down imperfectly.

Are you trying to suggest that the events depicted therein didn't happen? So what if they didn't? The story still exists, the book still exists. What you're having a hard time understanding is that the story and the book are not artifacts of the past. They are in the present, like the wisdom of Socrates, or a bestselling novel. If the message of the Bible did not ring true today, regardless of its history, then Christianity would die inside of 20 years, and that would have been true 20 years ago and 200 years ago.

Really, the problem many people have is with the message, the one rule, "Love thy neighbor." Love thy neighbor isn't a message people want to hear, especially when followed by the clarification "by the way, your neighbor is the person you currently hate." You hate Osama bin Laden? You should love him Because he is you. What you don't understand is that the message goes hand-in-hand with the story. But the sacrifices you make (including of yourself) to suffer the fate that attends living a life of loving your neighbor will inspire others to do the same. The tragedy is that moving. A rose that grows in the weeds but dies does not discourage others from planting in the weeds out of the futility, but rather it inspires them to plant as many as they can.

Living by that message is useless, or futile, because it actually, in actual practical fact, living by that rule improves the world in very real and tangible ways, even for those people who don't live it.
posted by Pastabagel at 3:19 PM on July 6, 2009 [6 favorites]


Every Christian I know knows that the Old and New Testaments were written by imperfect people who wrote it down imperfectly.

Are you trying to suggest that the events depicted therein didn't happen? So what if they didn't?


I agree that you can embrace the intent of Christianity and be a Christian without literally believing all or any of the stories in the Bible as having actually happened. But I do think a lot of people take it too far, especially in regards to trying to discredit scientific theories in order to promote alternate theories based on literal interpretations of religious stories.
posted by burnmp3s at 3:39 PM on July 6, 2009


Pastabagel, I'm having a hard time seeing what in my comment you find so objectionable. There is a lazy sort of biblical literalism which considers the Bible to be the inerrant word of God and the fundamental source of revealed truth. And what is considered essential and inerrant is often devoid of subtlety and nuance. Just because you don't know any of these people personally doesn't mean they don't exist. Roy Moore springs immediately to mind, though there are many others. Making it easier for non-specialists to understand the intellectual diversity of their own formative tradition seems to me an unqualified good.

To focus on the essential message of the gospels is all well and good. But even the Christian tradition is a lot more than just commentary on that one thing. People form their identity in complex interactions with the whole of the text and its representation within their communities. They read about the Noah story, or about David and Saul, or about Lazarus, or about Jesus and the woman with an issue of blood, and they draw conclusions about the relevance of these texts for their identities as believers. Knowing more about how these stories formed (not to mention the parables, laws and commandments which are more directly prescriptive) is part of forming a more mature and responsible relationship to one's sacred textual tradition.

The example that comes to mind for me comes from the rabbinic commentary on Genesis, Bereshit Rabba. There is a mention there of an extreme textual variant in the text of Genesis which has not survived in manuscript form. The rabbis recall that R. Meir possessed a Torah whose Genesis 1:31 did not read "God saw all that he had done and see: it was very good [ve-hinneh tov me'od]" but rather "...and see: death was good [ve-hinneh tov mavet]". Such a manuscript variant is interpreted by the rabbis as a powerful attestation of the profound integrity of the divine plan. Rabbi Meir's Torah asserts that even death itself, the source of so much human misery, is an evident element of the glory of creation. The rabbis did not imagine that R. Meir's Torah was a better text than the Torah they venerated. Nor did they advocate replacing the traditional text of Gen 1:31 with R. Meir's version. Instead, they meditated on the variant manuscript and derived from it a philosophical truth which surpassed even the apparent significance of the traditional text. The variant complicated and enriched their faith. It made them better believers.

Now, this is an extreme case, but the same process applies here as well. Knowing the diversity of one's own tradition need not replace or demean the authoritative text. For the mature believer, it can actually complete the work of revelation.
posted by felix betachat at 4:00 PM on July 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


I cannot even begin to comprehend why anyone, Christian or atheist or anything else, would think that an ancient manuscript that includes some books that didn't make the final cut would present a problem for Christianity.

Depends on why they didn't make the cut, really, doesn't it?
posted by rodgerd at 4:22 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's worth noting that this version of the Gospel of Mark does not include the resurrection.
posted by empath at 4:34 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Every Christian I know knows that the Old and New Testaments were written by imperfect people who wrote it down imperfectly.

I have a hard time believe that's true, unless you only know Episcopalians.
posted by empath at 4:42 PM on July 6, 2009


Every Christian I know knows that the Old and New Testaments were written by imperfect people who wrote it down imperfectly.

That may be true of Christians you know, but it is very, very far from true of Christians in general in the US.

National Association of Evangelicals: "We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God."

Southern Baptist Convention: "The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. "

Evangelical Free Church of America: "As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged."

Lutheran Church Missouri Synod: "The Bible is God's inerrant and infallible Word, in which He reveals His Law and His Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. It is the sole rule and norm for Christian doctrine."

General Council of the Assemblies of God: "The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct."
posted by jedicus at 4:58 PM on July 6, 2009 [15 favorites]


The Catholic Church:

""By supernatural power He (the Holy Spirit) so moved and impelled them (the sacred writers) to write - He was so present to them - that the things which He ordered, and those only, they first rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth."
posted by empath at 5:03 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm not so sure cathtruth.com is on top of what the Pope has been saying lately... but I'm pretty damn sure that the Catholic Church has acknowledged that evolution is true and that Genesis at the very least is mythological in nature.
posted by mek at 6:42 PM on July 6, 2009


The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Scripture.
posted by shothotbot at 7:00 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Catechism builds off of Vatican II's measured accommodation for historical criticism within the scope of orthodox Catholic exegesis. When he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger affirmed the Vatican II stance even while attempting to reemphasize the presuppositions of traditional exegesis. In his preface to the 1994 Pontifical Biblical Commission's essay, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, which itself reasserted the value of historical criticism, Ratzinger wrote:
"[T]the text of [this] document inquires into how the meaning of Scripture might become known—this meaning in which the human word and God's word work together in the singularity of historical events and the eternity of the everlasting Word, which is contemporary in every age. The biblical word comes from a real past. It comes not only from the past, however, but at the same time from the eternity of God and it leads us into God's eternity, but again along the way through time, to which the past, the present and the future belong."
In his own writings on method and biblical exegesis, Cardinal Ratzinger was even more forthright in his disdain for historical criticism and the interpretation of scripture as a historical product of human intellection and creativity. In his programmatic essay: Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: On the Question of the Foundations and Approaches of Exegesis Today (the title itself is a shot across the bow), Ratzinger wrote:
[T]he exegete should not approach the text with a ready-made philosophy, nor in accordance with the dictates of a so-called modern or "scientific" worldview, which determines in advance what may or may not be. He may not exclude a priori that (almighty) God could speak in human words in the world, He may not exclude that God himself could enter into and work in human history, however improbable such a thing might at first appear.

He must be ready to learn from the extraordinary. He must be ready to accept that the truly original may occur in history, something which cannot be derived from precedents, but which opens up out of itself. He may not deny to humanity the ability to be responsive beyond the categories of pure reason, and to reach beyond ourselves towards the open and endless truth of being.
All this is to say that, since Vatican II, the Church has attempted to chart a course that recognizes the philosophical and intellectual integrity of the historical approach to scripture even as it insists its ultimate Divine origin. Benedict XVI has demonstrated over and over his interest in rolling back the reforms of Vatican II, and his writings on biblical interpretation give an indication, I think, that he will, if not outright declare an historical approach to scripture to be anathema, at least radically curtail its practice and influence over matters of faith and doctrine.

All the more reason to celebrate the dissemination of manuscript sources which challenge us to read the text in light of its historical development.
posted by felix betachat at 7:26 PM on July 6, 2009 [7 favorites]


So the questioning of the validity of specific current beliefs and practices based on newly-found religious texts that contradict or ammend them would not be at all alien to Islamic tradition.

Yes and no. Yes, the issues involved in verifying and grading hadith did/do result in different religious positions. But the assertions about oral versus written traditions are a bit off according to the muslim understanding of the issue. Written texts never supplanted oral transmission as the basis for the canonical texts. The Quran itself, as well as the soundest hadith, are "proven" by mutawattir oral transmission, meaning a great number of independent chains of oral transmission relaying an identical text. The compiler of the Quran, the Caliph Othman, did not compile the canonical written text from a series of fragments or partial or competing written texts, but from the memory of the great number of companions of the Prophet who had memorized identical versions of the entire text. The only hadith considered valid for legal rulings are those with the same status of mass oral transmission. Even after being written down, the Quran and the major hadith continued to be memorized and transmitted orally down to the present day. In short, a newly found written text that contradicts the original canon would not cause theological problems because oral transmission has always been the superior form of proof in the Islamic tradition.
posted by BinGregory at 8:27 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The example that comes to mind for me comes from the rabbinic commentary on Genesis, Bereshit Rabba.

I preferred the commentaries on natural science, Bereshit in the Woods.
posted by msalt at 11:18 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


aeschenkarnos: "How very different Christianity and the English-speaking nations could have become, if only Hermas had ended up in the KJV.
[...]
Oh, what might have been.
"

Nah, not really. The New Testament is already filled with a hundred things Jesus said that have been twisted by dozen different interpreters into saying things that seems blatantly opposite of intentions, but which prevailed as theology for many years. It goes on today; Jesus would have a serious problem with anyone harming anyone else except those, perhaps, who are throwing moneychangers out of the temple.

The problem isn't just what got included in the Bible. The problem is that, if you get to set a frame around something and cast it into your invented context, you can make anything say anything else you want.
posted by JHarris at 12:16 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nah, not really. The New Testament is already filled with a hundred things Jesus said that have been twisted by dozen different interpreters into saying things that seems blatantly opposite of intentions, but which prevailed as theology for many years. It goes on today; Jesus would have a serious problem with anyone harming anyone else except those, perhaps, who are throwing moneychangers out of the temple.

Once you've moved into being the official religion of an empire, it's kind of hard to keep the stuff that suggests killing people is dissaproved of.
posted by rodgerd at 1:30 AM on July 7, 2009


The folks over at Rapture Ready have some issues with the Codex.
posted by The Whelk at 5:57 AM on July 7, 2009


One issue that I haven't really seen addressed is the fact that this is one Bible from the 4th century. While it's an amazing example of a Bible that was written around four hundred years after Christ, it remains but one example. How does it apply to the other Christian faiths at the time, like the Syriac Church, who had their own generally more conservative interpretation of the Bible? Perhaps I've missed it, but has there been someway to determine that this Codex represents the stereotypical Bible of the 4th century for all Christians?

Likewise, in response to the absence of Hermas, the message is already in the Bible. People just need to follow it.

An interesting look at when Christian militancy evolved (i.e., go forth and kill in the name of Christ), is in the recently published, The Forge of Christendom, by Tom Holland.
posted by Atreides at 6:27 AM on July 7, 2009


I have a hard time believe that's true, unless you only know Episcopalians.
posted by empath at 7:42 PM on July 6


I know all kinds, and it isn't hard to believe if you understand that when people attend church, they by and large don't check their brains at the door. Just because the official policy is X, doesn't mean people believe X. There are Catholics who are pro-choice, that doesn't make them cease to be Catholics.

It's true that Evangelicals can be bit nutty when it comes to wanting to interpret it literally, but the fact is that literal interpretation is impossible because the book itself is contradictory. Invariably they are complementing the text with someone's interpretation that resolves the contradictions or inconsistencies, and don't realize that (their text) = (the actual text) + (someone's interpretation).

Felix, I wasn't really offended by your comment, and I was surprised to read how radical Ratzinger is in trying to roll back the clock, so thanks for those comments.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:02 AM on July 7, 2009


While it's an amazing example of a Bible that was written around four hundred years after Christ, it remains but one example.

Well, around 300 years after Christ anyway (first century = 0 to 100), but that doesn't change your broader point. As far as I know, we simply don't have another complete Bible older than this one, though there are fragments out there that might partly answer your question.
posted by msalt at 9:09 AM on July 7, 2009


I had originally thought it was from the 5th century, and later corrected that error, then forgot to fix the actual years. So do pardon my typo there. Does anyone know of a good link which compares the actual books in the Codex to other existing examples of those particular books, by and by?
posted by Atreides at 9:59 AM on July 7, 2009


the fact is that literal interpretation is impossible because the book itself is contradictory.

Let me assure you that it is not impossible, and people interpret it literally all the time. You may be friends with a lot of liberal Christians, but it is far from the most common belief among christians that it is a flawed text written by flawed people.
posted by empath at 10:46 AM on July 7, 2009


I think the poll question here is a bit ambiguous on the inerrancy of the bible (the 'inspired' option doesn't ask if the bible contains errors, only if it's meant to be read literally or not).

One third Americans believe the bible is literally, word for word true.

76% of Americans are christian, so that means about 43% of Christians believe the bible is LITERALLY true.

I assume a significant percentage of those in the other group believe that it's without error, but also metaphorical. I'd guess the percentage that actually believes the bible might have actual errors (as opposed to intentional metaphors) has to be somewhere in the 10% range., or less.
posted by empath at 10:53 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


felix betachat: I'd like to believe that, with the democratization of these manuscripts, people would begin to recognize that the texts which form the fundament of their traditions are the products of human hands. They stand at far remove from the moment of revelation and are subject to the same fragility and distortion that attends any human creation. If one believes in special divine revelation in history, this messy manuscript traditions stands as a profound witness to the necessity of employing logic and reason in the process of divining that revelation. For those who do not think that a god has spoken to humans in this way, these manuscripts still record a centuries-long conversation between scholars, historians, scribes and laity. This literary conversation is one of the more beautiful and subtle legacies of our culture and ought to be available to anyone who has the will to explore it…In either case, and I don't believe I'm overstating things here, projects like this help to complete the work of the Enlightenment. If Hobbes and Spinoza could see this, I am certain they'd be powerfully pleased.

Pastabagel: So? Why do atheists have such a problem with this? Christians aren't jews or muslims. The New Testament is not a book of rules. Every Christian I know knows that the Old and New Testaments were written by imperfect people who wrote it down imperfectly…Are you trying to suggest that the events depicted therein didn't happen? So what if they didn't? The story still exists, the book still exists. What you're having a hard time understanding is that the story and the book are not artifacts of the past…

felix betachat: Pastabagel, I'm having a hard time seeing what in my comment you find so objectionable…Knowing the diversity of one's own tradition need not replace or demean the authoritative text. For the mature believer, it can actually complete the work of revelation.

Well, Pastabagel can speak for himself about his own perspective, but personally I find it a little odd that you insist on being either disingenuous or, at best, unknowingly contradictory about what you find exciting about the availability of this text. I would guess that it's the latter, since you repeat a logically fallacious leap that Spinoza introduced (I believe knowingly).

What I mean is this: you say you're happy about this text because it will “help to complete the work of the Enlightenment,” and you say favorably that Spinoza and Hobbes would be “powerfully pleased” by it. Now, I don't necessarily know what you're thinking of when you speak of the Enlightenment, but it seems to me that the efforts of both of those writers were bent toward overcoming the Church and instituting a new spiritual and political régime. It is certainly true that both had to avail themselves of political expediency and appear to speak favorably about Christianity in order to avoid being killed; but I believe that their writings give us no reason to doubt that their project had as one of its central aims the removal of Christianity from the center of public life.

Spinoza, who I believe was probably the more subtle and intelligent of the two, was particularly cagey and evasive in his obscuring of this fact in his writings. In fact, in inventing and popularizing ‘Biblical criticism,’ the act of analyzing the Bible as though it is not only not inspired but as though believing it is inspired is the foolish and childish act of intellectually blind sheep, he struck one of the greatest Enlightenment blows against the credibility of faith and of religion.

But throughout Spinoza's works—and especially in what is probably his most important work, the Theologico-Political Treatise—Spinoza disingenuously acts as though he's a great friend of faith, and as though he is only defending the central truth of the Bible. In fact, he almost certainly is doing this intentionally; and, unlike Hobbes, he does this not merely in order to stay alive and keep from offending the authorities so much that they burn his books. He says at the end of his first chapter in the Treatise that one of his primary goals is to save intelligent young men from the traps that would prevent them from becoming truly philosophic. His intention is to put the religious at ease so that they are more ready and willing to accept the very tenets that generally do away with the core of what religion means. This is In the end, when Spinoza presents the list of precepts that he claims are all that is left when you remove everything arbitrary, silly, or just plain wrong from the Bible, it's a very short list of rules that don't need faith to prop them up. Spinoza believed in ridding society of religion; and he, unlike Hobbes, seemed to believe that a society which is utterly free of religion in every way could still be a functioning and happy society.

This is a very long-winded way of getting to my point, I know, but: it's disingenuous of you to feign being a friend of faith when you've just told us that you're hoping this advances the Enlightenment project. Yes, this will certainly provide fodder for Spinoza-inspired Biblical critics; but I'm certain that even Spinoza himself knew that the Biblical criticism he invented wasn't really a revelation of the truth behind the Bible so much as it was a noble lie designed to liberate people from religion. And when you act as though you have in mind the ‘completion of the work of faith’ when you express happiness that this text is being put on the internet, well, I have a hard time believing it.
posted by koeselitz at 1:40 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let it be said that none of the above means that I think Spinoza or Hobbes were wrong, or that they were foolish or mislead. On the contrary, I think they were superbly accomplished in manipulating the multitude; and the fact that their teachings, many of which I believe they themselves didn't agree with, are now seen as so obvious as to be self-evident only shows how thoughtful and careful they were.
posted by koeselitz at 1:42 PM on July 7, 2009


The folks over at Rapture Ready have some issues with the Codex.

The folks at rapture ready hid the thread.
posted by empath at 2:17 PM on July 7, 2009


"It is certainly true that both had to avail themselves of political expediency and appear to speak favorably about Christianity in order to avoid being killed; but I believe that their writings give us no reason to doubt that their project had as one of its central aims the removal of Christianity from the center of public life."

Erm, uh… From my memory of the third book of Leviathan, Hobbes doesn't want to get rid of Christianity. He wants to form a new Christianity that has more in common with what he believes the core functions are. You're right that he puts in sops in the first book (though he very neatly demolishes them as collateral damage regarding morality), but that's aimed at his contemporary church, not at Christianity as a whole (and in part because his sponsor had run afoul of the Church prior).

This may be because very few folks read all of the second or third books—I only remember them vaguely from the one prof who made us—but the third book is a total brain bender with regard to his conception of God, Church and State.

From that perspective, given that he felt that the Church had deviated from the original meanings of the scripture, he'd be mighty pleased by the new availability of the Codex.
posted by klangklangston at 2:44 PM on July 7, 2009


Actually, I want to elaborate a little bit more. I've had quite a few discussions about the Bible with Christians of various denominations and most of them are pretty ignorant about it. They don't when they were written, by who, how it was compiled, etc. I've read more of the bible and about the bible than a lot of fairly devout Christians that I know. And they certainly haven't read it with a critical eye. It's pretty easy to believe every word is literally true when you haven't bothered to check.
posted by empath at 5:12 PM on July 7, 2009


The second layer of ignorance is that most Christians also don't have any knowledge of contemporary movements and religions, so they don't see all the influences on Christianity from mystery religions, etc..
posted by empath at 5:14 PM on July 7, 2009


As far as I know, we simply don't have another complete Bible older than this one

This word "complete". It's slippery.
posted by rokusan at 7:41 PM on July 7, 2009


klangklangston: From that perspective, given that he felt that the Church had deviated from the original meanings of the scripture, he'd be mighty pleased by the new availability of the Codex.

I don't know if I would go so far as to day that Hobbes worried about ‘deviation from the original meaning of the scripture,’ but I would grant that Hobbes seems to believe that human beings will never ‘progress’ to the point that religion will be unnecessary to maintain society. I think Hobbes believed that Christianity was as good a superstition as any to occupy the masses—so long as it was modified properly to encourage the correct preponderances. However, it's difficult to understate the extent to which Hobbes and other enlightenment thinkers cloaked their antipathy toward the reign of the church; Hobbes is willing to speak of Christianity head-on in the third and fourth sections of Leviathan, but you'll notice that he begins the third part by making the argument that prophets sometimes lie, and that those of us who don't have the gift of prophetic revelation are required to rely on nothing but natural reason. All of this amounts to an excuse to moving beyond scriptural authority and into the realm of reason alone. Hobbes is not alone in this careful evasion of religion; it's clear to me, and I think it's become much more clear in general since a collection of lost manuscripts of his were found about forty years ago, that Locke was probably more disingenuous than anyone else; he never really believed in the truth of Christianity at all, but he talked a big game.
posted by koeselitz at 9:08 PM on July 7, 2009


Sorry: it's difficult to overstate the extent to which Hobbes et al. cloaked their antipathy, &c.
posted by koeselitz at 9:10 PM on July 7, 2009


Oh, man, now you're gonna make me hafta reread my Hobbes, because I came out with a totally different sense than you did—one of Hobbes as devout but wildly heterodox.

As to Locke, it's always weird to me that his pure philosophical treatises are pretty obviously atheistic, what with their grounding in the senses etc., but his political philosophy requires a God to justify the Natural Rights theses. Otherwise, it's just kind of a weird assumption of rights apropos nothing.

(Sorry, guys, for derailing.)
posted by klangklangston at 10:42 PM on July 7, 2009


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