Friday, November 11, 2022

Examining the Basis Of Biblical Hermeneutics. (Pt. 2)


Fr. Elwood P. Hecker S.J. (Loyola Univ. Theology prof)

One of the salient points made by our Theology prof, Fr. Hecker,  was that half of the oldest manuscript witness texts, including a Bodmer papyrus, the Vaticanus and Beza’s Codex, omit the sentence in Luke 23: 34 which contains the words of Jesus: "Eloi, eloi lama sabacthani

This interjects a significant level of uncertainty into the textual tradition of hermeneutics, i.e.

[Text x] -> [Text x +   dx’] ->  [Text y]

 Where  dx’ above is the textual uncertainty introduced, say into the Gospel of Luke,  and Text y represents a wholly new interpretation.

This means the ensuing interpretation of the affected passage will be a subject of serious debate. Put briefly, i.e. in the case of Luke 23: 34,  half the witnesses insisted Jesus begged God’s forgiveness for them – the other half pretended to know nothing of the “Eloi, eloi lama sabacthani” prayer.

What gives?

It is probably bogus and a later addition. Why say so? Because the earliest Greek witness papyrus (called P 75 - which dates back to 200 AD) has no such content. However, the prayer CAN be found in Codex Sinaiticus and a large range of mss. produced in the Middle Ages.

To fix ideas, consider just these two Latin examples:

1) Dicit hos libri sunt clariores quam illi.

2) Hos libros esse clariores quam illos.

The first (1) represents the original  (Text x) which was copied to the form in (2). The problem is that a simple copyist error
dx’  changes the translation - and it is the job of the textual analyst to ferret it out.

(1) Reads (ungrammatically): He says these books are more famous than those.

(2) Reads: These books are more famous than those.

The accurate and conscientious textual analyst will quickly spot the grammatical error which changes the meaning from inspection of (1) which ought to read, in Latin:

Dicit hos libros esse clariores quam illos.

Which is therefore what the copyist version (2) should also read.

The failure of the copyist and resulting textual error makes it appear that the resulting "fame" of some book simply emerges, and no one actually stated it. It's a fait accompli!

In the next copyist change (we won't call it an error) a word is deliberately substituted to alter the meaning:

1) Id cum eis fecit. ("He did it with them")

2) Id cum virtute fecit. ("He did it with courage")

In this case, virtute is substituted for eis changing the entire meaning (
dx’). To track this sort of change, one would need to go back to the original Greek and Aramaic, locate the same passage and ascertain the translation there. If one discerns that (1) is close to the result, then translation (2) with the insertion of 'virtute' is bastardized. Such occurrences permeate the Bible as Bart Ehrman has shown (Misquoting Jesus).

Again, the issue is that unless the original language forms are investigated, the exegete is only doing half his job. This means even if he doesn't know Greek, Latin and Aramaic himself he must have a wise teacher (or Jesuit Professor) prepare scripts with the original translations, say for given passages.

More perturbing, is that the ancient languages are often not exhausted by the ones shown (or that we used at Loyola to compare for specific texts). Thus, it has been pointed out that the phrase "lake of fire" was originally in the Book of Mithras (Ized II of The Zendevesta) which predated the Christian works, scriptures by HUNDREDs OF YEARS. It was the abode of "eternal perdition" for all those who refused to "eat of the body of the Son, Mithras". Thus, it was COPIED - to portray an eschatological background for those unbelievers who refused to submit to Christ. (But was never originally used in any of the quadriform gospels or related literature).

Another critical aspect ignored by superficial exegetical practitioners (I call them wannabes) is an inherent failure to recognize that much of the biographic material (on Yeshua) in the New Testament is merely a reworking of material taken from the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint. A considerable part of the narrative structure of the Gospel of Matthew (and also of Mark, his source), for instance, can be thought of as a fleshing out and adaptation of a "messianic checklist" such as would have been formed for the nucleus of a messianic biography. Over and over, events and circumstances both trivial and important, are recounted by Matthew with the refrain: 'that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets'.

The many logia recounted in the Gospels would, if they could convincingly be shown derived from a single personality or source, be strong evidence that a historical Jesus existed. But such is not the case.

Here is where, again, attention to the historicity of the documents is the exegete's most crucial ally. Once more, the person needs to avail him or herself of the historical basis before launching into wholesale interpretation of passages - which is just as bad as not being acquainted with the original languages.

For example, Yale University features a detailed course on the NT Historicity, taught by Prof. Dale B. Martin and entitled: Introduction to New Testament History and Literature, and roughly on a par with my Introduction to the New Testament course taken at Loyola in 1964-65. (The Loyola course was somewhat more difficult).

The compilation of course sessions, all on video, can be accessed via this link:

Introduction to the New Testament History and Literature

And the one I recommend most for those short on time is No.13, dealing with the "Historical Jesus".  See link at end of previous entry.

In approaching these sort of issues, like Jesus' historicity, inquiring students and curious others need to take care to always be aware of the lurking presence of translational miscues and copyist errors.  As Yale Religious Professor  Dale B. Martin notes these are not “delivered from on high” but from very human brains and hands.

See Also:

Twenty Biblical Contradictions That Most Evangelicals Deny


THEOLOGY 220 FINAL (FALL, 1966):  1 hr 30 min

1. Estimate the percentage of the Qumran scrolls that are copies of books of the Bible. Of which proto-canonical books were there copies or fragments? Of which deutero-canonical books? Define each type of book, making clear any unfamiliar terms.

2. WHY are the Qumran scrolls of such great importance? Why would it be erroneous to conclude that these scrolls provide us with the original reading of the New Testament books?

3. What aids did biblical scholars already possess toward reconstructing the original reading of the Old Testament books? How have the discoveries at Qumran enhanced the value of the Septuagint translation as a reliable aid for reconstructing the original reading of the Old Testament that appears in the scrolls?

4. How (not how much) have the Qumran scrolls contributed to our knowledge of the history of Judaism? What caution(s) must we keep in mind when reconstructing Israelite history from these scrolls?

5. Three fourths of the Dead Sea Scrolls are writings composed by the Essenes themselves, treating their religious views and way of life. What have we learned from them about the Essenes' beliefs to do with the "angel of light" and the "angel of darkness"? What have we learned about their beliefs concerning the Messiah?

6. Discuss the moral views and practices of the Qumran sectarians as they might have impacted their texts-scrolls. Give at least two specific examples and expand on them at length, including likely copyist errors.

7. Half the original manuscript witness sources, including a Bodmer papyrus and Beza's Codex, omit the last line (accorded to Jesus) from Luke 23:33-34. What does this omission convey concerning the textual tradition of this sentence? What general caution does this provide concerning exegesis for the synoptic gospels in general?

8. Some Protestant biblical scholars used to hold that St. John's Gospel could not possibly have been written by a Jewish Christian living at the time of Christ. They asserted it was more likely written in the 2nd or 3rd century A.D., because of the terminology and ideas in St. John's Gospel reflecting an abstract dualistic theology (e.g. emphasizing the conflict between light and darkness).

Explain how the Qumran documents smashed this theory. Why would Jesus (as reported in his speeches in St. John's Gospel) have used such terminology and ideas?

9. Discuss fully the new insight for interpreting the 'Epistle to the Hebrews' which we get from the Qumran scrolls.

10. The word "mystery" (Greek 'musterion': 'what is known only to the initiated') occurs twenty seven times in the official New Testament and almost all these occurrences demonstrate the "secret infrastructure of a nascent cult". Further, a careful reading of the Pauline Epistles, and Gospels (supplemented by modern documentary discoveries- such as at Qumran) shows Christianity began as a mystery religion, replete with initiations, secrets and multiple levels of indoctrination.

The 'mystagogoue' element is also very evident in passages such as 1 Cor. 2:6 ff.

Explain the nature of a "mystery religion". Do you concur that Christianity - from the scriptural elements, passages noted- qualifies as such? Why or why not? If the negative, provide an alternative exegesis to make sense of     1 Cor. 2:6 ff.

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