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Bart Ehrman’s Botched Source

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Filed under History

Bart Ehrman

Atheist scholar Bart Ehrman is a smart guy, but he sometimes handles his sources in the most frustrating and misleading manner.

For example, in his 2012 book Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (where he is on the right side for once), he writes:

Several significant studies of literacy have appeared in recent years showing just how low literacy rates were in antiquity.
 
The most frequently cited study is by Columbia professor William Harris in a book titled Ancient Literacy (footnote 6).
 
By thoroughly examining all the surviving evidence, Harris draws the compelling though surprising conclusion that in the very best of times in the ancient world, only about 10 percent of the population could read at all and possibly copy out writing on a page.
 
Far fewer than this, of course, could compose a sentence, let alone a story, let alone an entire book.
 
And who were the people in this 10 percent?
 
They were the upper-class elite who had the time, money, and leisure to afford an education.
 
This is not an apt description of Jesus’s disciples. They were not upper-crust aristocrats.
 
In Roman Palestine the situation was even bleaker.
 
The most thorough examination of literacy in Palestine is by a professor of Jewish studies at the University of London, Catherine Hezser, who shows that in the days of Jesus probably only 3 percent of Jews in Palestine were literate (footnote 7).
 
Once again, these would be the people who could read and maybe write their names and copy words. Far fewer could compose sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books.
 
And once again, these would have been the urban elites (Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, 47-48).

The issue here is not the level of literacy in the ancient world or in Roman Palestine—it was, from the evidence we have, startlingly low.

The issue is the claim he makes about  Catherine Hezser.

It’s true that she published a very thorough examination of literacy in Palestine (i.e., her book Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine).

But did she “[show] that in the days of Jesus probably only 3 percent of Jews in Palestine were literate,” where literacy is defined as the very limited ability to “read and maybe write their names and copy words”?

It would be nice to look up what Hezser said on the matter, but when you look at Ehrman’s footnote, all you find is this:

7. Catherine Hezser, Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001).

No page number. No chapter number. Just a gesture at the whole book.

Okay, well, if you look in Hezser’s book, there is a chapter called “Degrees and Distribution of Literacy,” which is also the very last chapter in the book.

That’s exactly the kind of chapter that would present her final conclusions regarding the degree of literacy among Jews in Roman Palestine.

And, indeed, when we turn to the beginning of that chapter, we find Hezser writing:

Although the exact literacy rate amongst ancient Jews cannot be determined, Meir Bar-Ilan’s suggestion that the Jewish literacy rate must have been lower than the literacy rate amongst Romans in the first centuries C.E. seems very plausible.
 
Whether the average literacy rate amongst Palestinian Jews was only 3 percent, as Bar-Ilan has reckoned,(footnote 1) or slightly higher, must ultimately remain open.
 
The question naturally depends on what one understands by “literacy.” If “literacy is determined as the ability to read documents, letters and “simple” literary texts in at least one language and to write more than one’s signature itself, it is quite reasonable to assume that the Jewish literacy rate was well below the 10-15 percent (of the entire population, including women) which Harris has estimated for Roman society in imperial times.(footnote 2)
 
If by “literacy” we mean the ability to read a few words and sentences and to write one’s own signature only, Jews probably came closer to the Roman average rate.
 
Whereas exact numbers can neither be verified nor falsified and are therefore of little historical value, for the following reasons the average Jewish literacy rate (of whatever degree) must be considered to have been lower than the average Roman rate (Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine, 496).

Gah!

You see the multiple ways Ehrman has misrepresented Hezser:

  • Whereas Ehrman said she “shows that in the days of Jesus probably only 3 percent of Jews in Palestine were literate,” but what she actually says is that “the exact literacy rate amongst ancient Jews cannot be determined,” that the question “must ultimately remain open,” and that “exact numbers can neither be verified nor falsified and are therefore of little historical value”!
  • Ehrman presents the 3 percent figure as representing Hezser’s own findings (she “shows” it as a result of her study), but she indicates that the figure isn’t hers and that she got the figure from Meir Bar-Ilan.
  • Her own conclusion is that the figure might be 3 percent “or slightly higher” but is unknowable.
  • Finally, whereas Ehrman said the 3 percent figure represented only limited literacy—the ability to read and write your name and maybe copy words—Hezser indicates that the 3 percent represented a broader form of literacy, with “the ability to read documents, letters and ‘simple’ literary texts.”
  • By contrast, Hezser says that if only low-level literacy is meant (“the ability to read a few words and sentences and to write one’s own signature only”) then—contra Ehrman—the number was higher and “Jews probably came closer to the Roman average rate” of 10-15 percent!

So Ehrman has completely botched this source and misrepresented what Hezser said.

Why?

Presumably because at some point in the past he encountered the 3 percent reference in her book and it stuck in his mind. That’s about all he remembered, though.

When it came time to write his own book, he didn’t look up the reference in Hezser (thus explaining the absence of a page number) and mentally reconstructed what he thought she had said.

If he was being more careful, Ehrman would have looked up what Hezser wrote and either represented her accurately and/or (even better) looked up Bar-Ilan’s paper and gone directly to the source of the estimate.

I don’t want to be too hard on Ehrman, because anybody can botch a source (and everybody does from time to time—and precisely because of fuzzy memories), but this is not the only time I’ve found Ehrman misrepresenting verifiable facts—something we may look at further in future posts.

By the way, Hezser does give a specific citation to Bar-Ilan’s estimate of ancient Jewish literacy.

His paper is online here if you care to read it.

 


 

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  • Will

    Ehrman should have sourced Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan directly, he's a good source. Otherwise...big deal? If you are trying to discredit Bart Ehrman, you'll have to do a much better job than this, lol. Considering how many sources he uses, an issue or two is to be expected, though maybe his editor could do a better job checking behind him. There is nothing wrong, however, with the data and general low literacy of Aramaic peasants.

    Despite this schooling system, many children did not learn to read and write. It has been estimated that at least 90 percent of the Jewish population of Roman Palestine in the first centuries CE could merely write their own name or not write and read at all,[2] or that the literacy rate was about 3 percent.[3] Exact literacy rates among ancient Jews in Roman Palestine cannot be determined [4] Those are just estimations, and those estimations even cannot be applied to the period before the destruction of Jewish state, considering that destruction of state always has negative effects on the society.

    Wikipedia uses Bar-Ilan as the source for the 3% (note 3), so we can look at Ehrman as quoting him "through" Hezser, weird but nothing was really misrepresented, and Ehrman says "probably 3%" for a reason. It was a probabilistic claim.

    • Rob Abney

      What position was Ehrman supporting with this literacy rate statistic?

      • Will

        Usually it's just to cast doubt it on the idea that the disciples wrote anything.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          so it doesn't matter what percentage can write their own name or read a few sentences. It matters what percentage would have been capable of reading/writing something like the Gospels.

    • Mike

      what's 3% of the population in whole numbers? like if it is 3% of 500,000 then it'd be 15,000 people.

  • David Nickol

    Bart Ehrman had me convinced that Jesus really existed, but now I have my doubts.

    • Will

      Yes, if 5% of Jews of the time were literate instead of 3%, all bets are off on the historical Jesus.

    • Mike

      ha ha ;)

    • Ignatius Reilly

      I hear Carrier is very meticulous with his sources. ;-)

      • "I hear Carrier is very meticulous with his sources. ;-)"

        And very wrong in his theories, as has been shown multiple times on this website.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          It was meant as a joke. Carrier is certainly on the fringe of scholarship - I tend to think he is incorrect. He's basicaly the equivalent to scholars who think the Gospels were writtend by the named authors, that Matthew came first etc.

          As I mentioned in another comment, I've been reading a lot of biblical scholarship lately and plan on continuing to do so. Partially because I do not feel like I have satisfactory to athiests who claim that Jesus did not exist, but also because I want to gain a deeper understanding.

          • "It was meant as a joke. Carrier is certainly on the fringe of scholarship - I tend to think he is incorrect."

            We agree!

            "He's basicaly the equivalent to scholars who think the Gospels were writtend by the named authors, that Matthew came first etc."

            Well, I was with you until this comparison :) You seem to be conflating two different issues: who wrote the Gospels, and in what order. There is very strong evidence that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote the Gospels assigned to them--the earliest textual evidence overwhelmingly supports this. But almost all scholars agree that the Gospels were not written in the order they appear in most Bibles. This is not problematic or controversial.

            I recommend Dr. Brant Pitre's latest book on this--he has several chapters on Gospel authorship that surveys the current scholarship.

            "As I mentioned in another comment, I've been reading a lot of biblical scholarship lately and plan on continuing to do so. Partially because I do not feel like I have satisfactory to athiests who claim that Jesus did not exist, but also because I want to gain a deeper understanding."

            Wonderful! Kudos to you and good luck :)

          • David Nickol

            There is very strong evidence that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote the Gospels assigned to them--the earliest textual evidence overwhelmingly supports this.

            What do you mean by "textual evidence"? Pitre speaks of internal evidence—the evidence within the gospels themselves—and external evidence, which for him is largely the writings of the Fathers of the Church. The earliest "ancient witness" Pitre cites in his arguments that the gospels were not anonymous is Papias, whose time of writing he dates to "around AD 130." Given that Pitre argues for earlier dates of composition of the four gospels than the standard dates given by reference works, that's 70 or 80 years after the time Pitre implies the gospels were written.

            I would say that the internal evidence is negative. Taking Matthew, for example, the introduction in the New American Bible says the following:

            The questions of authorship, sources, and the time of composition of this gospel have received many answers, none of which can claim more than a greater or lesser degree of probability. The one now favored by the majority of scholars is the following.

            The ancient tradition that the author was the disciple and apostle of Jesus named Matthew (see Mt 10:3) is untenable because the gospel is based, in large part, on the Gospel according to Mark (almost all the verses of that gospel have been utilized in this), and it is hardly likely that a companion of Jesus would have followed so extensively an account that came from one who admittedly never had such an association rather than rely on his own memories. The attribution of the gospel to the disciple Matthew may have been due to his having been responsible for some of the traditions found in it, but that is far from certain.

            The unknown author, whom we shall continue to call Matthew for the sake of convenience, drew not only upon the Gospel according to Mark but upon a large body of material (principally, sayings of Jesus) not found in Mark that corresponds, sometimes exactly, to material found also in the Gospel according to Luke. This material, called “Q” (probably from the first letter of the German word Quelle, meaning “source”), represents traditions, written and oral, used by both Matthew and Luke. Mark and Q are sources common to the two other synoptic gospels; hence the name the “Two-Source Theory” given to this explanation of the relation among the synoptics.

            In addition to what Matthew drew from Mark and Q, his gospel contains material that is found only there. This is often designated “M,” written or oral tradition that was available to the author. Since Mark was written shortly before or shortly after A.D. 70 (see Introduction to Mark), Matthew was composed certainly after that date, which marks the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans at the time of the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66–70), and probably at least a decade later since Matthew’s use of Mark presupposes a wide diffusion of that gospel. The post-A.D. 70 date is confirmed within the text by Mt 22:7, which refers to the destruction of Jerusalem. . . .

            Pitre doesn't buy the argument that a disciple of Jesus (Matthew) would not have relied so heavily on Mark, who was not a disciple. But he says (having argued that Matthew, being a tax collector, had to be literate)

            Think about it for a minute: If you were one of the twelve apostles, listening to Jesus's teaching day in and day out, do you think it might have occurred to someone to take notes at some point? We know other ancient students did. And if it did occur to the disciples, whom might they have selected? Let's see . . . fisherman, fisherman, fisherman, fisherman, tax collector. . . .

            So Matthew, one of the twelve, who very well might have taken contemporaneous notes at the time he followed Jesus, would nevertheless base his Gospel on Mark? It doesn't seem likely to me.

            Of course, the idea that anyone following Jesus took contemporaneous notes is a pure fantasy. Is it possible? I suppose. Is there any evidence for it whatsoever? No.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            Have you read Tim O'Neill's "The Jesus Myth Theory: A Response to David Fitzgerald"? You can find it on his blog "Armarium Magnum"

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I've read it. Not O'Neill's best work

          • Oh? How and why?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I read it, because I generally enjoy your blogs and because I sometimes find myself arguing whether or not Jesus existed.

            I didn't really make a negative comment, I just implied that I thought your other writing was better. For instance, I thought your article on Bruno was top notch. It takes the reader to Italy, as a lost tourist who stumbles on a historic statue. It has a history lesson. It takes a few shots at Cosmos. It is well written. There is another article that I have no idea what it was about, but I remember you telling a story of when you were a graduate student and buying an old book that you wanted. It was well told and a slice of the human experience that I can relate to. That story sticks in my mind - the reason you told the story I don't remember.

            I think as a writer you are at your best when you are intermixing stories, humor, and sarcastic shots in the article. The Fitzgerald article was long, rambling (sorry), and lacked the qualities I like in your writing. Perhaps part of the reason for my dislike is that I don't have the context. I don't read Fitzgerald. I don't care what he thinks about Jesus, O'Neill's blog, or anything else. I think 10s of thousands of words spent arguing with cranks is a waste of time to write and read. I understand why you would want to write it. It may be useful for people who take Fitzgerald seriously. I don't remember it being a particularly good primer on the historical Jesus - another one of your articles is.

          • If you read the opening paragraphs, I make the point myself that arguing with cranks is a waste of time. It's my very first sentence, in fact. I then to go on to explain why I avoided writing any reply to Fitzgerald at all and why I only eventually did so with reluctance - it's because that kind of article is not what I tend to spend my time on.

            But even if wading through the response-to-the-response-to-the-response of other people's arguments is tedious, as I fully recognise and acknowledge in my article, Fitzgerald's reply to me was being waved around as some kind of slam dunk victory for Mythicists, when in fact it was as riddled with incompetence and bad arguments as his original book. So I was given an opportunity to expose those arguments in detail as well as show that Carrier is completely unreliable as an unbiased source of competent analysis.

            So I'll accept your criticisms, mainly because I pre-empted them in the article itself. The article still contains some detailed debunking of arguments that Mythicist fanboys like to parrot that I've not seen debunked elsewhere (eg the stuff about Origen and Whealey on the TF).

          • psstein1

            Ah, I would disagree slightly. There's a sizable number of scholars who believe Mark and Luke were written by Mark and Luke. Almost nobody thinks Matthew wrote Matthew; John has become a little more contentious in recent years. Also, there are some good scholars doing work on the Griesbach Hypothesis (Matthew---> Luke---> Mark as a digest of both Matthew and Luke). They haven't been found particularly persuasive, but not due to lack of trying.

  • I disagree. I think she clearly states that her view is that it is either 3%, or slightly higher. But that precision is impossible and even these can vary depending on how one understands "literacy".

    In fact she seems to indicate that her research leads to 3 %, where another says slightly higher. Presumably this was her point in writing an entire book on the subject.

    I don't think he's botched the source at all. I expect he actually read the whole book and agrees that she did show 3 % on the standard he accepts.

    It is open to Jimmy to read the book and disagree with the conclusion. It appears that he has skimmed one chapter and made hyperbolic statements based on his own lay opinion.

  • David Nickol

    I am not quite sure what to make of this criticism of a single, solitary case of allegedly faulty documentation by Bart Ehrman on a matter (the literacy rate in Roman Palestine) that does not seem to be seriously disputed by scholars, that presumably supports an argument by Ehrman that is not challenged or even mentioned, and that appears in a book that argues in favor of a conclusion Christians agree with—Jesus existed. But it comes at an interesting time for me, since I am currently reading Brant Pitre's The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ (and also waiting for Strange Notions to post Dr. Pitre's answers to questions raised by a number of us here awhile back).

    Having finished 36% of the book (according to my Kindle) and being quite disappointed in it so far, I searched Google for reviews of Dr. Pitre's books, and most of what I found had serious criticisms, many of which mirrored my concerns. I am listing those articles here for anyone who is interested. I may write a formal review of the book when I have finished it, but in the meanwhile, the criticisms in these articles seem quite fair to me and I think are worthy of attention:

    Confecting Evidence by C. Kavin Rowe, in First Things

    Brant Pitre's "Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist" by John W. Martens in America Magazine

    REVIEW: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Carl Gregg on
    Patheos

    Brant Pitre, Benedict XVI, And Why The Pope Has It Right by Nathan O’Halloran, S. J. on Vox Nova

    • David Nickol

      I should add that I bring this up here because, as with the New Atheists, Catholic apologists are "obsessed" with Bart Ehrman. There is no index to Pitre's The Case for Jesus (a serious omission, in my opinion, for a book of its kind), but searching the Kindle version, Ehrman's name comes up 110 times. A naive reader would get the impression that Ehrman is some kind of outlier (like Richard Carrier) whose crazy ideas must be refuted before they catch on. But Pitre could just as easily use the notes and introductions to the Gospels in the New American Bible (Revised Edition) to make the case he wishes to argue against. Pitre is not happy with mainstream contemporary New Testament scholarship, and Bart Ehrman, although he makes a convenient target to attack, is only one among thousands and thousands of scholars who believe and teach what Pitre is trying to refute.

      • Catholic apologists are "obsessed" with Bart Ehrman.

        This is a bold claim and you provide nothing to support it. We've done maybe 5-10 posts on Ehrman here out of 500 total posts. Is that obsession? Perhaps you can provide specific examples of specific Catholic apologists you have in mind to back up such a wild accusation.

        For what it's worth, I certainly don't think Pitre is obsessed with Ehrman. Citing Ehrman, who is widely considered to be an expert in this field, and engaging his ideas is certainly what you would expect of a book like this. But as far as I know, he hasn't focused on Ehrman much elsewhere in his many other books. So he's definitely far from "obsessed".

        • David Nickol

          We've done maybe 5-10 posts on Ehrman here out of 500 total posts.

          What other contemporary biblical scholar has been the subject of 5-10 posts? Also, what other scholar of any stripe would have been the subject of this kind of very pointless OP? If I conclude that one single reference by Pitre in The Case for Jesus is flawed in the same way as Jimmy Akin claims Ehrman's reference to Hezser is, will you give me as much space to write an OP as you devoted to Jimmy Akin's?

          It strikes me as bizarre, on a site devoted to dialogue between Catholics and atheists, to have a post criticizing in great detail one reference in a book that is devoted to proving Jesus really existed!

      • "Pitre is not happy with mainstream contemporary New Testament scholarship, and Bart Ehrman, although he makes a convenient target to attack, is only one among thousands and thousands of scholars who believe and teach what Pitre is trying to refute."

        Even presuming this is true--and it's tough to say, since it's such a general assertion--this is little more than an ad populum fallacy. Even if 1,000 scholars disagree with Dr. Pitre's criticisms, you still must engage his criticism on their own merits. Appealing to a majority does nothing to refute it.

        You've now made a handful of comments critiquing Pitre's views in The Case for Jesus but, so far as I've discovered, have not provided one specific example where you think he's wrong in that particular book.

        Expressing your personal emotions (e.g., disappointment) and gesturing to other scholars who disagree with Pitre is not to seriously engage his work.

        • David Nickol

          Expressing your personal emotions (e.g., disappointment) and gesturing to other scholars who disagree with Pitre is not to seriously engage his work.

          Before I set out my criticisms of The Case for Jesus, I would like to finish reading it. It is not "seriously engaging" to write a critique of a book when you are halfway through.

          As for "gesturing to other scholars who disagree with Pitre," that is an inaccurate characterization. I have posted links to every review I have found (except for one by a colleague of Pitre's on TSP, one of Pitre's own web sites) of Pitre's most recent books. One was highly enthusiastic. I have not "cherry picked" critical reviews, but if I have overlooked positive reviews, I would be most happy to have them called to everyone's attention here.

          • "As for "gesturing to other scholars who disagree with Pitre," that is an inaccurate characterization. I have posted links to every review I have found (except for one by a colleague of Pitre's on TSP, one of Pitre's own web sites) of Pitre's most recent books. One was highly enthusiastic. I have not "cherry picked" critical reviews, but if I have overlooked positive reviews, I would be most happy to have them called to everyone's attention here."

            There have been several positive reviews of Pitre's previous book. (It was endorsed by several well-respected Catholic biblical scholars.) But that's besides the point.

            The point I was making was that even if those critics were correct, and one of Pitre's previous books make some hermeneutic errors, that doesn't say anything about the arguments in his current book which deal with a completely different topic (historical evidence for Christ and the Bible vs. Eucharistic theology.)

            My point was that casually gesturing to reviews of Pitre's previous books does nothing to substantially engage (or critique) Pitre's current book.

            I guess I just expect that when someone says they find a book disappointing and insinuate that the scholarly consensus is obviously and overwhelmingly against an author's position, he would provide at least some specific evidence to support that criticism.

            I will, however, eagerly look forward to your thoughts once you finish the book.

          • David Nickol

            There have been several positive reviews of Pitre's previous book. (It
            was endorsed by several well-respected Catholic biblical scholars.) But that's besides the point.

            Please link to the positive reviews of Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist and/or The Case for Jesus.

            If by "endorsements" you mean blurbs, they count for very little.

            The point I was making was that even if those critics were correct . . . that doesn't say anything about the arguments in his current book which deal with a completely different topic . . . .

            It does say something if the critics of the previous book point out problematic approaches that Pitre takes in the book they review that Pitre repeats in the current book. I don't think anyone would argue that when Bart Ehrman writes a new book, we must approach it as if Ehrman never wrote anything previously, and we must erase from our minds every criticism that has ever been made of his work in the past. Pitre has a particular approach to the Gospels as does, say, Richard Bauckham (whose name appears 26 times in the Kindle edition of The Case for Jesus), while Raymond E. Brown has another, and John Dominic Crossan yet another. If Pitre cites Bauckham as an authority (as he does), that tells you something about Pitre's own approach to the Gospels. And if Pitre consistently cites Bart Ehrman as and example of a wrongheaded "mainstream" biblical scholar to be refuted, that also tells you something about Pitre. He has a body of work, just like every other prominent scholar, and he has an approach that he takes in that body of work and that readers expect him to take. So I reject the idea that The Case for Jesus must be looked at in isolation.

        • David Nickol

          Even presuming this is true--and it's tough to say, since it's such a general assertion--this is little more than an ad populum fallacy.

          From the Afterword (by Robert Barron) of The Case for Jesus:

          This book will prove to be a most effective weapon in the arsenal of Christian evangelists in their struggle against the debunking and skeptical attitudes toward the Gospels that are so prevalent not only in academe but also on the street, among young people who, sadly, are leaving the churches in droves.

          • I fail to see how that quote from Bishop Barron does anything do deny that your appeal to "thousands and thousands of scholars" was little more than an ad populum fallacy.

            I'm not sure what point you're trying to make by excerpting that...

          • David Nickol

            I fail to see how that quote from Bishop Barron does anything do deny that your appeal to "thousands and thousands of scholars" was little more than an ad populum fallacy.

            There would only be an ad populum fallacy if I claimed that Pitre is wrong because thousands and thousands of scholars disagree with him. I have not challenged any particular assertion by Pitre (yet). What I am pointing out is that Pitre uses Ehrman as a target for his criticism, or as an example of what is wrong with "mainstream" biblical scholarship today, but Ehrman is not an outlier (like, say Carrier). It is not proof that Pitre, or Bauckham, or Barron, or Kreeft, or Hahn are wrong. But I would argue that they are in the minority. And I think a good case can be made from quoting them that they see themselves in the minority. That doesn't prove they are wrong. It does, however, serve as an alert to people that if you go to a "mainstream" university and take courses on the New Testament, you are going to be taught views that are different from those of Pitre, Bauckham, Barron, Kreeft, or Hahn. You are going to be taught something more in line with Bart Ehrman. And if you read a modern reference work such as an encyclopedia, you are going to get the "mainstream" view. And if you read even Catholic works such as the New American Bible (introductions and notes), The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, or McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible, you are going to see that it does not reflect the views of Pitre, Bauckham, Barron, Kreeft, or Hahn.

            I'm not sure what point you're trying to make by excerpting that...

            Because, I think, it indicates to me that Barron is saying Pitre is "swimming against the current." That doesn't mean that Pitre is wrong. It means he is outside the "mainstream."

            Let me give an example from Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, the Kindle version of which, by the way, is a steal at just $2.99!

            In general, I shall be arguing in this book that the Gospel texts are much closer to the form in which the eyewitnesses told their stories or passed on their traditions than is commonly envisaged in current scholarship. This is what gives the Gospel their character as testimony. They embody the testimony of the eyewitnesses, not of course without editing and intepretation, but in a way that is substantially faithful to how the eyewitnesses themselves told it, sice the Evangelists were in more direct contact with eyewitnesses, not removed from them by a long process of anonymous transmission of the traditions. In the case of one of the Gospels, that of John, I conclude, very unfashionably, that an eyewitness wrote it. [Boldface added - DN]

            Now, I know you find Bauckham's book very convincing and have recommended it a number of times. But my point is that even Bauckham himself asserts that he is at odds with "current scholarship" and that his view of the authorship of John is "unfashionable." This does not make him wrong, but it is clear that even he believes his is a minority view. And when Pitre quotes Bauckham as an authority because he (Pitre) agrees with Bauckham, it follows that Pitre is among those who hold the same minority view. I repeat yet again, a minority view is not necessarily wrong. But it is a minority view, and the arguments of the majority all have to be dealt with convincingly before a minority view is accepted.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Your links don't work. :-)

      • David Nickol

        Thanks. I fixed them, and they should work now.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Thanks for the links. They were interesting. I have recently taken up the project of digging deeper into the scholarship on the historical Jesus. I probably will not end up picking up Pitre's book based on the reviews and the fact that he does not seem to be in the same league of say a Vermes, Meier, or Sanders.

          • David Nickol

            FWIW, the book recommended to me by a commenter of whom I think very highly over at dotCommonweal—a professor of New Testament studies at Georgetown University—is Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was by Gerhard Lohfink. I have not read it yet myself.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Thanks for the recommendation. I have about a dozen books I want to read on Jesus. I'll add that to the list. Probably won't get to it for awhile though

    • Darren
      • David Nickol

        Thanks. And here is yet another review of Pitre's Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist that, while respectful, contains quite serious criticisms. His conclusion: "I suggest that this book be used with caution." On the other hand, here is a positive review—the only one I have found so far.

    • You say you're reading The Case for Jesus and have been "quite disappointed" so far, but list no specific reasons why. Then you link to a bunch of book reviews...not dealing with that book. Perhaps you can explain your disappointment?

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    ... but this is not the only time I’ve found Ehrman misrepresenting verifiable facts...

    Ok.... but is this the most egregious instance? Because if so, I'm not too concerned.

    • David Nickol

      I am not exactly sure what the "verifiable facts" here were that were misrepresented. It is not the most accurate reporting of what a cited source says, and if this were typical of Erhman's documentation, it would be a problem. But what is of concern for Ehrman's argument is the rate of literacy in Roman Palestine. Ehrman's assertion is that "in the days of Jesus probably only 3 percent of Jews in Palestine were literate." Is there a serious problem with that?

      Also, Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine is over 500 pages long. How can we be certain Ehrman was referring only to the single page Akin mentions?

      Again, this is not a great example of the careful citation of a source, but if the above criticism were to appear in, say, a review of Ehrman's book, and it was the only example of faulty documentation, it would be very strange indeed. One would wonder what the reviewer though he or she was proving.

  • It bears pointing out the larger issue here. The level of literacy in Roman Palestine goes to the background information on whether any disciples of Jesus wrote the Gospels. Lets go through the part of argument.

    Say the background information says that 15% of the population could write something like the Gospels. Lets say further that 5% of the population who were not of the upper class could write something like the Gospels. This is being very very generous.

    This makes the prior probability unlikely that any given individual from that time and place wrote them. There would be a 85% chance that they could not, if you don't know anything else about that person.

    When we add new evidence that the people the Gospels describe as the disciples definitely not being upper class, the improbability gets much worse, there is only a 5% chance that any of the disciples were part of that lower class who could write the Gospels.

    On these facts, being extremely generous we have a 95% chance that the disciples didn't write them.

    What evidence do we have to improve this? Only that some people came to believe that they were written by disciples. How much would you say that improves the odds, 10%? We have no idea why they came to believe this and we should be very skeptical of attributing high probability to the truth of something based only on the fact that others believe it and have a tradition going back centuries of this. E.g. there is no god but Allah and Mohamed is his prophet.

    Lets be even more generous and say it is 44% likely that people came to believe that the Gospels were written by disciples because it was true. This is being almost insanely generous. We are still in a state that it is more likely than not that these disciples did not write the Gospels.

    But we have even more information, we know very well that several other Gospels were forged. I would say this lowers the probability of authenticity even more.

    What we lack is any evidence connecting the disciples to the writing of these documents. They themselves do not say who they were written by, we are not told that the disciples had people they knew who could take dictation, they do not say that any of the disciples were unique in being able to read and write.

    The evidence of the Gospels being written by disciples is extremely weak, which is why mainstream scholars refuse to accept it.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      That's probably why there was a class of professional scribes. A person may be illiterate himself. but still able to talk. Then someone who could write, writes it down.

      Of the traditional gospels, we find them attributed to:
      1. Matthew: a disciple, but one who was a tax farmer and hence someone who could cast accounts and keep records. So perhaps someone literate enough to cast an account in basic Aramaic, as supposed, which was later translated into the Greek. (Complete with explanations of Jewish terms and practices for gentile readers.)
      2. Mark: not a disciple, but someone who acted as secretary and translator for Peter, a job that would require some degree of literacy. (Perhaps not much, since the Greek used in the version we have is not polished, and rather rough and breathless. By ancient custom, his gospel could have been called "according to Peter," since the dominant Greek culture favored the living word over the written document.
      3. Luke: not a disciple, but a physician and so probably one of the literate classes. By his own account, he practiced Greek historie.
      4. John: seems to have been someone "known to the high priest" so possibly himself one of the literate class. The text seems to have gone through two edits (if you cotton to that sort of analysis). John was one of the most common names in Jewish society, and we know of at least one other John among the high-ranking followers; viz., "John the presbyter."

      We generally find the bogus gospels attributed to Names: Thomas, Judas, Mary Magdalen, Peter, James, and so on. So one of the more convincing aspects of the gospel writers is precisely that they do not claim Big Name authorship. The possible exception is John, and that may easily be a case where John the fisherman gave his statements to John the presbyter.

      Also, friends do not let friends do statistics; esp. when actual statistics are not to be found and the numbers appear pulled out of vapors. Three percent? Really? Not 5% or 2%? Based on what samples?

      After all, the prior probability that Brian Adams exists is vanishingly small. If his father had been born female (or his mother male) he would not have been conceived. So that is already only 25%. Similar probabilities apply to his parents being born, which brings us down to 25%*25%*25% of each of himself, his father and his mother being of the requisite sex, which is a mere 1.6% so there is a 98.4% probability that Brian does not exist.

      Or take the case of the gerbils. There is a barrel containing gerbils, half of whom are male and half female. Brian comes in and asks for two gerbils; so the gerbilmeister reaches into the barrel, pulls out two and puts them in an opaque bag. As he leaves, Brian asks the gerbilmeister whether he had gotten a matched pair. The gerbilmeister says, "I could tell by touch that one of the two is male; but I don't know about the other." What is the probability that the second gerbil is also male? Most people would say (incorrectly) that p=50%.

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Are you saying that Mark wrote his gospel in Greek, but Matthew, who by general consensus of Biblical historians copied much of Mark, wrote in Aramaic? That Matthew, copied and translated Marks Greek into Aramaic which was then translated back to Greek, while in many instances preserving the exact wording?

        . If his father had been born female (or his mother male) he would not have been conceived. So that is already only 25%.

        I really don't see how you can type that while claiming to be a statistician. If you don't see why, I recommend that you buy an expensive lottery ticket. After all it's either a winner or a loser... 50% chance!

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          The prior probability of the father having been born male is 0.50. The probability of the mother having been born female is 0.50. The probability that the father was born male AND the mother was born female is 0.50*0.50=0.25. Just a bit of humor for folks trying to assign probabilities to ancient literacy.
          +++
          Matthew wrote first. Probably the Q. It was translated into Greek.

          • David Nickol

            Matthew wrote first. Probably the Q. It was translated into Greek.

            Are you saying Matthew wrote Q in Aramaic, Mark wrote his gospel independently but after Q, and someone (anonymous?) used Q and Mark to write what we call the Gospel According to Matthew? And Luke used Q (Matthew) also?

          • David Nickol

            I should add that the majority view among contemporary Biblical scholars appears to be that the (Greek) Gospel of Matthew itself is not a translation of an Aramaic Gospel of Matthew, because it does not bear the traces of a translated document. For example, it contains instances of wordplay that work in Greek but cannot be translated back into Aramaic.

            I am no expert on Q by any means, but I think it is generally believed to have evolved rather than to have been a document written by a single individual.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Well, it would not have "evolved" very slowly. Many of the eyewitnesses were still alive at the time the gospels were written down, although writers of Greek-style bioi tended not to write things down until the eyewitnesses were already dying. The Greeks trusted what they called "the living word" more so than written documents. You could not cross-examine a document or look it in the eye; so they fell back in docs only when there was no other choice looming.

            Surprisingly, I have read works translated from German or French or Latin or Greek that employ English word-play. Not all translation is done using the verbum de verbo method. That works well enough going from Greek into Latin, or from Syriac into Arabic; but not so well when going from Syriac into Greek or Arabic into Latin.

            Q has always struck me as something of an invisible sky document. That is, there has been no trace of it in the material or empirical record. The same with the "Signs" gospel. However, like epicycles, it seems a good (if unverified) way of saving the appearances. But a hypothesis repeated often enough has a distressing habit of taking on the appearance of a fact.

          • David Nickol

            Q has always struck me as something of an invisible sky document. That is, there has been no trace of it in the material or empirical record . . . . But a hypothesis repeated often enough has a distressing habit of taking on the
            appearance of a fact.

            But you earlier said:

            Matthew wrote first. Probably the Q. It was translated into Greek.

            So Matthew probably wrote Q, the existence of which is doubtful???

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Right. It seems at least a reasonable candidate if there ever was such a document. Matthew's Hebrew/Aramaic gospel was the only one used by the Ebionites. It was a collection of the 'oracles' of the Lord; so Greek Matthew has obviously added other materials, like the infancy narrative, and probably other narratives as well. The theory is that it was picked up from Mark.

          • Steve Brown

            Aren't there parts of Matthew quoted in the Didache? Didache is dated around 90-100 AD. In fact there is even a scholar Alan Garrow who basis a thesis that Matthew was dependent on the Didache. Info about his book can be found here:
            http://www.alangarrow.com/didache-and-matthew.html

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Certainly Luke declared right up front that he had read everything that had already been written and talked to everyone he could get hold of.

            How "independently" would Mark have written? How many different ways can you say that Jesus got into the boat and they pushed off from shore? Not all languages have the enormous vocabulary of parallel terms that English possesses, and because the writing materials were dear and hand-crafted books laborious, they would have gone for minimalism wherever they could. He had jotted down notes from Peter's sermons and story-telling. If Matthew had collected some of the same stories, it is entirely likely (esp. in a largely verbal culture, which thinks no big deal about memorizing huge chunks of stories, epics, poems, etc.) that they were talking to some of the same people or telling the same stories.

            Jan Vansina wrote a nice book titled Oral Tradition as History, in which he demonstrated how pre-literate cultures preserve a telling verbatim over many generations, and the circumstances under which eyewitness testimony is and is not reliable. Most of his examples are from African tribes, but he also gives examples from the Hopi Indians and the modern British and the like.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            "Matthew wrote first."

            If you say so. I'll go with scholarly consensus for Marcan priority. This is from the Vatican website:

            The ancient tradition that the author was the disciple and apostle of Jesus named Matthew (see ⇒ Matthew 10:3) is untenable because the gospel is based, in large part, on the Gospel according to Mark (almost all the verses of that gospel have been utilized in this), and it is hardly likely that a companion of Jesus would have followed so extensively an account that came from one who admittedly never had such an association rather than rely on his own memories. The attribution of the gospel to the disciple Matthew may have been due to his having been responsible for some of the traditions found in it, but that is far from certain.

            http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/__PV9.HTM

            As to your stats... you do know that transgendered people make up a bit less that 50% of the population. You can contest Brian Green Adams' stats, but he was at least going with numbers based on research, and even inflated them against his position to be generous. Your example does the exact opposite, so although it may have been an attempt at humor, it doesn't really have anything to do with BGA's point.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It was a separate point: viz., the Late Modern's tendency to make up statistics for which there are no sample data. The example demonstrated how easy it is to show that something is "unlikely."

            How do you answer the gerbil problem?

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Well I suppose I missed that point since there is sample data for both ancient literacy and on the transgendered population.

            As for gerbils, the contents of the sack can be M-M, M-F, F-M, F-F. We eliminate F-F due to the gerbilmeisters info, therefore a 33% chance of it being M-M. Do I get a prize? Maybe the relevance of gerbils statistics to the discussion?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Congratulations. Most people would say 50%. The relevance is the tendency to make "probabilistic" statements based on intuition with the illusion of having said something scientificalistic.

            What sort of sample data is available for ancient literacy?

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Re-read the article above... maybe not sample data per se but certainly not made up statistics.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Then where does the 3% come from? It seems remarkably precise for having no data behind it. Why not 5% or 2%.

            I have seen similar kinds of figures which were based on the average suppositions of a collection of scholars. The Jesus Seminar used to do this. They would all take a guess and then they would weight and average the guesses. Us empirical types just roll our eyes at that sort of thing.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            "Then where does the 3% come from?"

            If you are truly interested you should pick up Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine and find out. Or, you can continue assuming that the 557 pages of "critical analysis of the various aspects of ancient Jewish literacy" it contains are nothing but "wild guesses" on the basis that you don't like the Jesus Seminar and that the number is too precise for your liking.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I thought someone who knew could give a precis. I have seen far too many misuses and misunderstanding of statistical methods to be very hopeful of laymen, even "critical analyses" by laymen.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Catherine Hezser is hardly a layman: http://www.soas.ac.uk/staff/staff31101.php

          • Garbanzo Bean

            What are her credentials regarding statistical analysis? I see nothing of the sort in her "Expertise".

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Insofar as statistics is concerned.

          • David Nickol

            Your quote is from the Vatican website, true, but it is from The New American Bible, which "conservative" Catholics consider very unreliable, if not downright heretical. They have not, however, explained why such an abominable document is hosted on the Vatican website, the website of the USCCB, or was approved by the USCCB.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The winds of fashion blow where they whist. The problem is that it's hard to draw new conclusions and thus dissertation topics and peer-reviewed papers when virtually no new data on the gospels have come to light for many centuries. Hence, the parade of "real Jesuses" over the years.

          • David Nickol

            The problem is that it's hard to draw new conclusions and thus dissertation topics and peer-reviewed papers when virtually no new data on the gospels have come to light for many centuries.

            But New Testament scholarship at the level that someone like Bart Ehrman presents it, especially in his popular works, is not "new." It is the accumulated work of the past few centuries. For example, the idea that Matthew and Luke both used Mark and Q to write their gospels dates to the late 19th century.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        "Also friends do not let friends do statistics...."

        I was hoping someone would point out that even if the literacy rate is 3% that does not mean that the probability that at least 1 or at least 4 of Jesus's followers is 3%. It is a hypergeometric distribution, which I'm assuming could be adequately approximated by a binomial.

        The probabilities start to look better when we calculate them correctly. For instance, if Jesus had 12 followers the probability that at least one was literate is close to 40%.

        There are good arguments against traditional authorship. Literacy rate is not one of them.

    • Doug Shaver

      It bears pointing out the larger issue here. The level of literacy in Roman Palestine goes to the background information on whether any disciples of Jesus wrote the Gospels.

      Yes, but only barely. If I had good reason to accept the traditional attributions, then I would infer that either (a) the authors happened to be among the 15 (or whatever) percent who were literate or else (b) they hired scribes to do their writing.

  • David Nickol

    In The Case for Jesus I have found this unusual bit of documentation:

    In short, if we follow both internal evidence from the Gospel of John (including the title) and external evidence from other writings, there is every reason to conclude that the Gospel is being attributed to John, the Zon of Zebedee, an eyewitness to Jesus of Nazareth and the beloved disciple. In the words of Raymond Brown:

    When all is said and done, the combination of external and internal evidence associating the Fourth Gospel with John son of Zebedee makes this the strongest hypothesis, if one is prepared to give credence to the Gospel's claim of an eyewitness source.

    Now, Raymond E. Brown is, in my opinion, one of the greatest Catholic biblical scholars who ever lived. His opinion carries great weight. Imagine my surprise, then, when I happened on the footnote, which I might not have read, since reading footnotes is somewhat of a pain in a Kindle book. The footnote documents the quote fully (from a 1966 work), but then says the following: "in his later writing, Brown changed his mind on this point and no longer gave weight to the eternal evidence for John the son of Zebedee."

    Why cite Brown's words from a 1966 work as authoritative if Brown himself later changed his mind? We can give some credit to Pitre for acknowledging (in a footnote) that Brown changed his mind, but citing a view of Brown's that he would himself have challenged were he alive today strikes me as a misuse of Brown's name. It would be like using quotes from Bart Ehrman's earlier views on Christianity to support belief in God when we now know Ehrman is an agnostic.

    It would be one thing if Pitre cited one of Brown's arguments. A good solid argument made by Brown would be relevant today even if Brown later changed his mind. But Pitre sites an early conclusion of Brown's, not an argument.

  • David Nickol

    Readers beware!

    I have finished Brant Pitre's The Case for Jesus, and have been working on a review of it which—if I don't abandon it because of this discovery—may be longer than the book itself. Pitre quotes from a number of sources, including the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition, but he makes changes to the quoted texts that it is impossible to identify without looking up the material quoted and doing a word-by-word comparison. He does in the footnotes (back-of-the-book notes in the Kindle version) say "adapted," "slightly adapted," and in a few cases he gives a reason (e.g., to make the translation more literal). But there is nothing in the quotes themselves indicating what changes have been made. Here is an example—Daniel 9:24-26, with a footnote that reads “RSVCE, slightly adapted.” Words marked with strikethroughs are words that Pitre has deleted from the original, and words in boldface are Pitre's substitutions.

    24 “Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place [one]. 25 Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one a messiah, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one a Messiah shall be cut off, and shall have nothing; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war; desolations are decreed.

    Having spent my entire career—from my first job after graduating from college to my retirement—in the publishing industry, I have never seen anything like this. Quotations are never tampered with. An author or editor changes even what appears to be an obvious typo in quoted material at his or her peril.

    Doing a Kindle search of the notes, there appear to be 17 instances of "adapted" quotations, the originals of which I feel obliged to check before completing my review of the book.

    • David Nickol

      Another example, Luke 1:1-4, footnoted "RSVCE, slightly adapted (in order to give as literal a translation as possible)."

      Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account carefully in order for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth facts concerning the things of which you have been informed.

      I cannot imagine Brant Pitre doesn't know Greek. If he is not satisfied with the RSVCE, why doesn't he make his own translations?

      • David Nickol

        From the copyright information for the RSVCE:

        No changes are made to the text. All quotations must be accurate to the text, including all appropriate punctuation, capitalization, etc. unless specifically approved to the contrary prior to publication.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      That's very troubling. I usually only check endnotes on things that I think are super interesting or suprising.

      Does he have any justification for his "adaptions"?

      • David Nickol

        Does he have any justification for his "adaptions"?

        There really can be no justification for "adapting" copyrighted material, especially without making it absolutely clear what the original source said.

        There are a few cases in which he gives a reason. There is one instance in which he says "in order to give as literal a translation as possible," and a couple of others in which he "adapts" archaic language, as in the following:

        25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank thee you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; 26 yea yes, Father, for such was thy your gracious will. 27 All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

        Granted, this does not change the meaning. But what is the point? If you don't like the RSVCE, do your own translation, or use one of the more modern translations. The quote I gave from Daniel definitely does change the meaning to suit Pitre's argument. I think it would be fair to describe it as "doctored" rather than "adapted." It also violates the terms under which the copyright holder grants permission to use the material.

        Pitre also "adapts" quotes from the Loeb Classical Library and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          There really can be no justification for "adapting" copyrighted
          material, especially without making it absolutely clear what the
          original source said.

          I agree 110%.

          If he wants to provide an alternate translation, he should do that only after quoting verbatim what his source actually says.

          The quote I gave from Daniel definitely does change the meaning
          to suit Pitre's argument. I think it would be fair to describe it as
          "doctored" rather than "adapted." It also violates the terms under which
          the copyright holder grants permission to use the material.

          Doctored is a much better word. I would go farther and say Pitre is being dishonest and deliberately misleading. I doubt I'll read him.

          Pitre also "adapts" quotes from the Loeb Classical Library and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.

          Even though I am an atheist, I really want that book collection.

        • Doug Shaver

          There really can be no justification for "adapting" copyrighted material,

          Copyright is beside the point. Even if a document is in the public domain, if you put an excerpt within quotation marks, then that had better be exactly what was in the original.

    • Lazarus

      Thanks, David, this is important work that you are doing here.

      I am halfway through this book, and have not picked up on these incidents.
      This is, at best, a completely unacceptable practice that Pitre is perpetrating here.
      With his participation promised earlier in another thread, he is obviously willing to engage here at SN.

      As such, I challenge Prof. Pitre to respond here in detail to David's comments.

      • Lazarus

        Still no reply?

        These are serious charges, well worth a detailed response by the author.
        Personally, I believe that these enquiries go directly to his integrity in general and the value of the book in particular. I would like to see the author's response.

        Brandon : could you please bring this to Prof. Pitre's attention? If he elects not to reply please let us know.

        • David Nickol

          Setting aside the issue of respecting copyright (and it is a big issue), I suppose one could argue that Pitre would be perfectly capable of translating passages from the New Testament (and Old Testament?) himself, so "touching up" the RSVCE translation was just a labor-saving shortcut. If the RSVCE is adequate except for a word here and there, it's easier to "adapt" it than to translate from the original Greek. Copyright and intellectual-property issues aside, what harm can there be in changing thou art to you are?

          Unfortunately, in my opinion, there are places, particularly in the chapter "Jesus and the Jewish Messiah," and most specifically in passages from Daniel, in which I believe his "adaptations" are determined by his overall theory rather than his theory being based on the original text. And if you firmly believe that the Bible is to be read as one coherent work, then why shouldn't you take obscure passages from the Old Testament and "clarify" them based on what you think is clear in the New Testament?

          I should make it clear that Pitre and I are in fundamental disagreement about something critical. He believes there are explicit "prophecies" (predictions) about Jesus in the Old Testament, and I don't. I think he would see his "adaptations" as making the "prophecies" that are really there in the text more clearly visible. From my viewpoint, that is "doctoring" the text. But in fairness, I think he and those who find his interpretations convincing would not consider it illegitimate.

          But having said that, "adapting" the Revised Standard Version" just isn't done. It is not merely a copyright issue, but also an issue of lending the authority of the RSV translation to your own work.

          As an aside, I find it very amusing that when I was in Catholic school, the RSV was a Protestant translation and was not to be looked at. My father was not a Catholic, and I looked on his copy of the Bible as taboo. I vaguely recall not merely knowing I should not read it, but being afraid of even touching it. Now the RSV (with a handful of the most minor changes possible to make it "Catholic") is the preferred translation among conservative Catholics.

          • Will

            As an aside, I find it very amusing that when I was in Catholic school, the RSV was a Protestant translation and was not to be looked at. My father was not a Catholic, and I looked on his copy of the Bible as taboo. I vaguely recall not merely knowing I should not read it, but being afraid of even touching it. Now the RSV (with a handful of the most minor changes possible to make it "Catholic") is the preferred translation among conservative Catholics.

            Lol, protestants do the same thing with Catholic Bibles, especially those that include non-Canonical books like the Apocrypha (how dare they contaminate the Bible with heresy). Maybe having a common enemy with we atheists/non-Christians will help them get over some of that, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

          • Lazarus

            The whole thing is, at least at this stage, quite unsatisfactory and I really would like to hear from Pitre on this. I am willing to accept that there may be a valid reason for these adaptations, but let's hear it then. It should be a simple thing.

    • Rob Abney

      Did you contact Pitre or the publisher of the book? How did you decide that making your accusations public was the best approach?

      • David Nickol

        I wrote an e-mail to Pitre's editor, and the editor has responded that he will take it up with the author.

        How did you decide that making your accusations public was the best approach?

        I wouldn't exactly say "accusations." What I am pointing out are simply facts. The author says in footnotes that he "adapted" quotations from the RSVCE, and I verified (a) that he did and (b) that he does not make it clear exactly what is different in his "adaptations" from what is in the originals. I am trying to write a review of the book, and it is certainly the kind of thing any reviewer would note. If I ever finish the review, I plan to post it here. (I am having a much more difficult time than I imagined when I started.)

        I thought it important enough to mention in advance of the review because I thought people here might be reading the book, and I think they deserve to know that what they are being given in quotation marks are often not direct quotations.

        I wrote to the editor because, as someone who worked over forty years in the publishing business handling just these kinds of issues (among many others), I felt it was something the publisher should know. They have (inadvertently, I am sure) not complied with the requirement of a copyright holder whose material they reprinted. These are the kinds of things it is up to an editor to deal with.

  • Seraphim Hamilton

    I've noticed the discussion of Brant Pitre's "Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist" here. It should really be noted that Pitre released, about six months ago, his "Jesus and the Last Supper" which answers almost all of the criticisms on those reviews. Much of the critical response to Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist hinged on the idea that John's Gospel presents the crucifixion of Jesus as occurring while the Passover Lambs are being slain in the Temple, while the Synoptics present it as occurring after the paschal meal has been eaten. A major feature of "Jesus and the Last Supper" is a critique of this view, so that it's now become irresponsible to cite those reviews as a refutation of his central thesis.

  • David Hennessey

    I'd say exactly twelve angels are dancing on that pin, what say you?

    He's fighting over 3% or 5%, anything he says after that is tainted.