Friday, March 17, 2006

Late Night Textual Criticism

I have been way too busy these days to get a chance to read this, but I was excited to see Jon Stewart interview Bart Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus (and a Princeton PhD), on the Daily Show the other night. From NPR:
Ehrman says the modern Bible was shaped by mistakes and intentional alterations that were made by early scribes who copied the texts. In the introduction to Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman writes that when he came to understand this process 30 years ago, it shifted his way of thinking about the Bible. He had been raised as an Evangelical Christian.
All that stuff about "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"? According to Ehrman, that was not originally in the text. It was written in the margins and eventually made its way into the main body of the text.

We see that all the time with Chinese texts--people arguing over whether such-and-such character was really something else before a scribe got it wrong, or if such-and-such a passage was really originally part of a later commentary. It was fun to see someone speak engagingly about this stuff, and... did I mention that it was on the Daily Show?!

1 comment:

Huichieh said...

But there is a big difference.

In the case of John 7:53-8:11, the entire chunk is missing from the earliest known NT manuscripts available to modern scholarship. (Nevertheless, it seemed to have surfaced quite early in the tradition.)

In any case, most modern translations work from the latest critical edition (UBS4/NA27) in which the entire chunk is marked (IIRC) "probably not in original". In the NASB for instance, the passage is included but marked with a marginal note: "Later mss add the story of the adulterous woman, numbering it as John 7:53-8:11". (Incidentally, marginal notes of this and similar scholarly character are apparently included in the original editions of the King James Bible, but has long since dropped out of popular printings of the version.)

In the case of, say, Wang Niansun's many proposed emendations to the Xunzi (or whatnot), the commentator is often operating on purely 'internal evidence'--considerations of grammar, style, orthography, continuity, parallelism, logic, and such like, i.e., the commentator's fine sense of what the text should be; as opposed to 'external evidence', i.e., a distinct reading from an actually existing manuscript, plus know scribal tendencies.

A closer analogy would be text critical work on the Laozi on the basis of comparisons between the Mawangdui text vs. the Wangpi text.