Last week when a caller to The Dividing Line asked about resources on textual critical studies, I noted the plethora of information to be found at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog. One of the contributors to this blog is Dr. Tommy Wasserman from Lunds Universitet in Sweden. I was surprised, and very disappointed, to read Dr. Wasserman’s comments today on that otherwise fine blog. I say disappointed in how badly Dr. Wasserman missed the context of my brief comments. Let’s look at some of the things he had to say.
Until very recently, I was unaware of the Christian apologetic James White. Apparently, he has recently debated with Bart Ehrman on whether the Bible “misquote” Jesus or not (alluding to the title of Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus).
I am assuming an “apologetic” in Sweden is an apologist in the United States. In any case, I am going to assume from his wording that while he is aware of the debate with Bart Ehrman, he has not, in fact, listened to the debate. Hence, he would not be aware of how clearly Ehrman noted the shift in his own thinking over the past “fifteen” years or so away from a discussion of the original text. He is probably not aware that Ehrman made those comments directly in response to my citation of Moises Silva’s words in defense of the “original text.” This should be kept in mind, since the regular readers of my blog would be aware of that context, one that I had not only commented on rather fully on The Dividing Line the same day as my blog entry, but had been discussing regularly for a couple of months.
On his Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog he commented yesterday (here) on Bart Ehrman’s recent announcement that a second edition of The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Questionis (eds. Bart D. Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes) is in the pipeline, in which he found “a very telling statement.”
Here is where I fear there may be some linguistic problems cropping up. Perhaps Dr. Wasserman’s grasp of English syntax is impacted by his current location and language usage? I honestly have no idea. But it is very obvious that I did not find Ehrman’s announcement of a second edition of the work in question a “very telling statement.” English readers know what I was referring to: I was referring to Ehrman’s own assertion that the most “exciting” thing that has happened over the past “15-20 years” is the very paradigm shift that Wasserman seems to have completely read out of my blog article. May I quote from an interview with Bart Ehrman posted on the very same blog on which Dr. Wasserman is posting to substantiate the context I attributed to Ehrman’s words? From the entry of September 25, 2006:
For me, the most exciting thing about being a textual critic over the past 15-20 years has been seeing how textual criticism has moved beyond its myopic concerns of collating manuscripts and trying to determine some kind of “original” text to situating itself in the broader fields of discourse that concern an enormous range of scholars of Christian antiquity. Textual critics are uniquely situated to contribute to these larger concerns, meaning that now, finally, the work textual critics do can be seen as widely important and relevant, not simply of relevance to textual technicians.
So, given that in our debate Bart had clearly expressed this same idea, and that the nexus of this revolution has been a fundamental shift in the paradigm upon which he is operating, how could Dr. Wasserman so completely misread my intentions? It is possible Dr. Wasserman entertains the idea that unless one is amongst the elite in the field that one cannot possibly have anything meaningful to say. I hope not (though that attitude is rampant). But thankfully, Dr. Robinson, in the comments section, recognized that Wasserman had skipped over my real intentions. More on that later.
So before continuing to examine Wasserman’s blog entry, let’s note that 1) Wasserman does not give evidence of being familiar with the content of the debate with Ehrman, and 2) he has misread the title of my blog entry, thinking that the “telling comment” is about the mere production of a new edition of The New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis. The telling comment to which I was making reference, in context, was that more had happened in the last fifteen years “than in any comparable fifteen year period” in the history of the discipline. I interpret this in light of my recent interaction with Ehrman, and Ehrman’s own words. And so we continue with Wasserman’s comments:
It is apparent that White knows very little of what he is talking about. Just because he happens to strongly disagree with Bart Ehrman’s views of the transmission of the NT, which I am not trying to defend, he seems biased against everything associated with Bart Ehrman in a very unfortunate way.
Once again, I would like to hold open the possibility that Dr. Wasserman simply does not read English as well as Swedish. There is nothing in what I wrote that substantiates not only the dismissive and insulting comment, but more importantly, his assertion of “bias against everything associated with Bart Ehrman.” This flows, of course, from his having completely missed the point of my blog entry. I welcome a new edition of the above work (one that has been in my personal library for years). It is painfully clear from my comments that I was not addressing the mere publication of a second edition. I was very much attuned to the underlying claim from Ehrman: that past 15 years is a watershed period. Why? Because of the shift in the paradigm to which I make reference.
At this point Wasserman is so far off the rails that the rest of the commentary is not overly useful, but for the sake of edification, I will review the rest anyway.
Ehrman’s monograph from 1993, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture was already out when the volume on the Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research came out in 1995. To a great extent, the latter volume, with contributions from a wide range of twenty-three leading scholars, reflects a consensus on the status questionis in most areas of the discipline, while in some other areas a variety of views are represented. (Admittedly, the “Byzantine priority”-position held by e.g., Maurice Robinson is lacking.) In any case, I am quite confident that the second edition will in no less degree reflect the “width and depth” of scholarship in the field.
Such is all well and good, but likewise irrelevant to my entire point, as we have now seen. I would note in passing that given Ehrman is working on a revision of Orthodox Corruption, there seems to be no limit as to how far the “bleeding edge” of scholarship will be willing to take this new direction, now that it is no longer shackled to the “myopic concerns” of the original text!
A lot has really happened in NT textual criticism in the last fifteen year period, which has very little to do with postmodernism. A lot of significant work has been and is being done in an increasing pace, most notably at the leading centres in Münster and Birmingham. In addition to a steady stream of new MSS (e.g., 26 more papyri and many more uncials, minuscules and lectonaries), we have seen the publication of new major editions, and significant developments in methodology. And, yes, even some new scholars have entered the field ;-). As one of those, who, btw, has not “thrown in the towel on the ‘original text’,” I very much look forward to contributing to the second edition.
Again, Wasserman misses the point. Let’s say a lot has happened in fifteen years. No one would dispute the assertion. However, what I quoted did not say “a lot has happened.” It said that the past fifteen years arguably represents the busiest period in the entire history of textual critical studies. Would Dr. Wasserman wish to dispute the context in which I placed Ehrman’s words? Do I need to post a clip of the audio from the debate where Ehrman makes note of this very thing in response to Silva (and in the context of condescendingly dismissing Kurt Aland’s statements regarding the tenacity of the text of the NT)? Does he wish to argue that Ehrman’s own words do not fit perfectly in the context of his own statements quoted above from 2006? He would have to do so if he is going to actually interact with what I said, not his misreading thereof.
I am glad Dr. Wasserman has not “thrown in the towel” on the original text. Elliott’s insulting comments regarding Greenlee’s book illustrates how deeply (and how quickly!) the abandonment of the “myopic concern” of the original text has penetrated into the “textual critical community,” if such a thing actually exists. In fact, I commented fully on this on the DL:
Finally, Dr. Wasserman added,
(Besides, White could have mentioned where he got the announcement from in the first place.)
I was sent the announcement in e-mail, actually, before I saw it in my RSS feeds.
Now as I noted above, Dr. Maurice Robinson provided a comment to the blog article:
Tommy has suggested that “It is apparent that White knows very little of what he is talking about.” And yes, perhaps White is unaware of the more recent film acquisitions and investigative research being undertaken at Muenster and Birmingham, as well as the photographic work being carried out by Dan Wallace. But it is clear in White’s comments that this is not what he is addressing; rather, his comments relate to the issue of underlying theory and praxis rather than material matters.
I have often promoted the work of CSNTM (I note Ehrman took a totally unwarranted and insulting shot at Dan Wallace and CSNTM in our debate, a shot that depended upon his continuing misrepresentation of “evangelicals”). I am aware of the work that is being done. But Dr. Robinson is correct: even if I were ignorant of these things, that isn’t what I was talking about.
Speaking from a solidly evangelical perspective (and differing strongly with White on text-critical issues), I would say that, from an apologetic standpoint, White has put his finger directly on a real problem, holding up a proper mirror to evangelicals within the discipline.
As White notes on his blog, the “paradigm shift” is in fact a “shift in worldview” (the latter not included in Tommy’s quote), and this shift in fact does represent “an abandonment of the paradigm of the preceding generations.”
The issue of the Greenlee review and subsequent comments posted here also seem to reflect this very point: the evangelical worldview and text-critical model is simply belittled or ignored due to the paradigm shift.
Exactly. I hope Dr. Robinson will affirm that I have bent over backwards to accurately represent his position (I have inserted a footnote in the new edition of The King James Only Controversy that is nearly a full page in size providing the information Dr. Robinson himself provided to me in defense of his position). I respect his work and his dedication to the discipline. Despite what some say about me, I am actually fully capable of respecting people while disagreeing with them on various issues.
In any case, I am thankful that Dr. Robinson saw the point of my post, and how Dr. Wasserman had missed it. I hope my clarification will be of assistance to my readers, and to Dr. Wasserman as well.