Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Vacuous Blather v. Text Criticism

N.B.: This post will be continuously updated in order to provide references and sources to my counterclaims of the vlog in question.

1. The vlog begins with an editorial on Carl's resistance to the Bible, "especially the King James Version" and shifts to a discussion of "St Jerome." This move we would call a non sequitur, as the second point does not follow logically from the first one. Or even historically for that matter; the "King James Version", more properly called the Authorized Version, was commissioned by King James I of England and remins essentially an Anglican-use version, despite its misuse by Fundamentalists.

Car'ls version of the history of St Jerome contains several blunders.

In the first place, the task given to St Jerome was purely one of translation. St Jerome was commissioned by Pope Damasus I (d. 384) to undertake a new translation of the Bible, as there had already been one in circulation termed the Old Latin or Italic version. Moreover, Carl fails to take into account that there were already Bibles in circulation, especially the edition ordered by Emperor Constantine I (a.k.a. "Constantine the Great"); in fact, the Codex Sinaiticus is thought to be one such example of these Constantinian Bibles (see T. C. Skeat, "The Codex Vaticanus and Constantine," in Journal of Theological Studies 50 [1999] 583–625).

If Carl had the remotest knowldege of the Bible's textual history, which he clearly does not, he would have made good use of P.R. Ackroyd and C. F. Evans, ed., The Cambridge History of the Bible, 3 vols. (Oxford, UK: Oxfored University Press, 1970), especially volume 1, From the Beginnings to Jerome.

Second, Carl mentions that St Jerome edited out certain narratives of the Bible, citing for instance the lack of Mary's parentage in the narrative (he does not indicate which narrative). He also asked for the names of Mary's parents, and concludes that St Jerome must have deleted them. Again, he is incorrect; according to ancient testimony, they are named Joachim and Anne (or Anna); their names are still retained by the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Coptic Church of Alexandria, Church of England, and several other eastern churches; in point of fact, St Joachim and Anna are liturgically commemorated on 26 July in the Roman Calendar and on 9 September in the Byzantine Calendar. Thus Carl's assertion that we do not know the names of Mary's parents is neglects the evidence of (i) liturgical praxis, (ii) post-biblical writings, and (iii) the testimony of the Fathers. Most importantly, Carl neglects (or is ignorant of) the testimony that comes from the Protoevangelium of James.

2. The vlog mentioned "archives of the Catholic Church." This is a statement of ambiguity . What "archives of the Catholic Church" does he refer to? The Vatican Secret Archives? The Apostolic Library? A scriptorium in a Roman monastery? His vaguely general statement betrays a profound ignorance of the history of Late Antiquity.

3. Carl asserts that Protestants recovered the "suppressed stories" and reinstated them. However, a simple comparison a Catholic Bible with a Protestant Bible will demonstrate the exact opposite. What Carl states here is not mentioned in any reputable work of Protestant theologians or historians. For instance, Prof Dr Alister McGrath, for instance, professor of theology at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, wrote In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (New York, NY: Random House, 2001), makes no mention of this. Not even the fiercely Protestant but scholarly sound website makes any such claim.

4. Carl also mentions that there is no historical record of the geography mentioned in the Book of Job. He is correct, but this is hardly new information. Whether or not the narrative of Job "actually happened" misses the point entirely, as the narrative serves as a parable, not an history. Carl obviously is unable to distinguish fact and truth--they are not necessarily coterminous. To take a famous example, the story of young George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and later confessing to his father has no basis in fact; yet, for all the historical fiction that it is, the story nonetheless holds an important truth about the virtue of honesty. Even if it were proven beyond all reasonable doubt that young Washington never chopped a wodden tree and--for the sake of the argument--never even existe, the "myth" still has merit, precisely because it relays values, not statistics. Ovid's Metamorphoses are pure fiction, but because they are "myth," they contain truths (consider Narcissus' entrapment in the pool of water, to take an obvious example).

5. In yet another non sequitur, Carl argues for the Bible's inaccuracy on the basis of Bush's failed economic policy. Does this mean if Bush's economic policy led to the greatest prosperity in the history of the United States, the Bible would become true? We have here a miserable instance of the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy.

6 "God is not a politician" is another non sequitur. But here, Carl argues for the "wall of separation" (Thomas Jefferson) because God is not a politician. On what basis is he able to determine what God is or isn't? I'm not sure who should be insulted--God, civil servants, or political science majors.

Be that as it may, the American doctrine of the separation of Church and state is wholly irrelevant to the discussion on the Bible's historical veracity.

7. "People need to respect other religions." Absolutely! In fact, the Catholic Church has institutionalized respect for other religions; the Second Vatican Council issued Nostra aetate (II Session) and Unitatis redintegratio (III Session). Not only that, the bureaucracy of the Vatican, the Roman Curia, has specific dicasteries devoted to dialogue with other religions with the aim of creating mutual respect and understanding. There is the Pontifical Council for Promoting Inter-Religious Dialogue, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, as well as several distinct international committes devoted to interreligious dialogue. In point of fact, the Catholic Church has personnel devoted precisely to the cause of religious liberty, the most notable being His Eminence +Walter Cardinal Kasper.

Respect for religions must go beyond saying or signing "Respect for religions!" It must be actualized by honesty and integrity, which Carl fails to show in his inability to verify the premises in the Newsweek article he refers to repeatedly throughout his vlog.

Now, an editorial of my own.

Carl, who claims to be a professor, displays a shocking degree of academic dishonesty: Carl fails to cite his sources; he fails to verify secondhand or thirdhand information; he fails to remain within his field of expertise, instead pontificating on matters of theology, text-criticism, Late Antique history, and logic.

Since my training is in theology and Biblical hermeneutics, I will make a two specific corrections to Carl's many phantastic assertions.

First, he discipline of researching, identifying, and cataloguing fragments of the Bible is called text-criticism. Carl's nonsensical talk about "editing out" narratives, suppressing fragments of the Biblical text, and translations lands him in the court of text critics such as Prof Dr Daniel B. Wallace, Prof Dr Bart Ehrman, Prof Dr J. Harold Greenlee, and the late Prof Dr Bruce Metzger. Each of these experts have written volumously on the question of the Bible's textual history. I refer the interested reader (read: academically honest people) to their books, listed in the bibliography below.

Second [to be continued]


ALAND, KURT, AND BARBARA ALAND. The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, rev. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989.

BROWN, RAYMOND, and RAYMOND F. COLLINS. "Canonicity." In RAYMOND BROWN, et al., The New Jerome Bible Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1990.

BROWN, RAYMOND, and D. W. JOHNSON. "Text and Versions." In RAYMOND BROWN, et al., The New Jerome Bible Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1990.

GREENLEE, J. HAROLD. Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, rev. ed. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.

HAYES, JOHN H. and CAROL R. HOLLADAY. "Textual Criticism: The Quest for the Original Wording." In Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner's Handbook. Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1987.

The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 4th ed. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005.


  1. Perhaps Carl was actually commenting on the cover story of the magazine he showed, and received his biblical "schooling" from that same article.

  2. Yes, of course you're right.

    But a professor should know better than to exercise such facile scholarship.

    (1) Were the critique from the Society of Biblical Literature Journal or Biblical Archaeology Review, it would be worthy of mention. But Newsweek?

    (2) What are his qualifications to pontificate on questions of text criticism, especially since he doesn't even know what that means? His arguments are as meritorius as that of a creation scientist explaining the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

    My basic premise is that Carl is out of his depth--both in the field of Biblical sciences and, worse, in the field of formal logic. It's a tragedy he ever taught as a professor.

    Thanks for your comment. I look forward to more.

    M. Hysell

  3. I believe one of the comments to his vlog asked " Who are you". Still a good question. As usual I learned a lot from your point by point response.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I have tried to post a response to his vlog, to no avail. I suspect that he is editing out my comments.

    If that's the case, we have yet another instance of academic dishonesty from our "professor."

    M. Hysell


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