09 September 2009

Passing Notes

Okay, I'm still here, still alive, still breathing, still connected with the web world. As far as I know this is going to be another placeholder entry, something to try to keep the blog alive while I scurry about looking for acorns, or something equally productive.

Well, let's see... My family has returned from visiting my mother (their grandmother) at the coast; my niece is in a foul mood, but as far as I can tell from talking with my mother things went well there, and they got her yard in good shape and the new wall on the house painted, so I'm putting it down to exhaustion.

I'd hoped to have something more solid to include, but I will note a couple of recent blog entries I've read with enjoyment. John J. McKay (archy) has a fascinating piece entitled "Zombies of the mammoth steppes" involving an interesting piece of fake history: the 1846 discovery of a complete mammoth specimen—a discovery that never happened. Although some of the details seem to be a bit fuzzy, the story originated in an 1859 children's book by Philipp Körber, entitled Kosmos für die Jugend. The discovery soon made its way into the scientific literature, and "By the end of the century, some of the details were so well established that they had could stand up against newer, and more correct, data." While certain details of the story were especially appealing to crackpots (see for example its use here at Creationscience.com), legitimate scientists also have continued to cite the nonexistent discovery. McKay attributes this to three elements:

First, the original story was well told, filled with many plausible details, and included the solutions to some outstanding mysteries about mammoths. Probably because of the verisimilitude and answers, the story was adopted and retold in considerable detail by some very influential scientists. Their credibility led to many retellings in both the popular and scientific press. Finally, debunkings of the story have been weak, made by not credible writers, or located in hard to find places.

One of the "not credible" debunkers was Henry Hoyle Howorth, a champion of the Flood and an opponent of the concept of ice ages, who wrote in The Mammoth and the Flood:

It is very strange that if genuine no accounts of this discovery should have reached the ears of Baer or Brandt, Schmidt or Schrenck, who none of them mention it, and that it should be first heard of in a popular book for boys in 1862. Until some proof to the contrary is forthcoming, I shall treat this tale as a mere romance constructed out of what we know about the Mammoth from other sources as an amusing story for boys.

Not that Howorth was the only one; still, given his biases, he didn't help matters much. Anyway, the piece is a great follow-up to McKay's earlier Mammoth on Ice (also very much worth reading, if you haven't seen it already).

On a completely different note this piece (h/t James McGrath) took me back a good many years to Dr. James M. Robinson's class in Q when the subject of the western non-interpolations came up—why, I don't remember. (The western non-interpolations are a group of passages, mainly in Luke, that don't appear in the western text, but do appear in most new testament manuscripts.) Most of the class was unfamiliar with the term, and Dr. Robinson pointed out that it wasn't exactly a neutral term for the group, as it basically presupposed that these passages had been interpolated into the Alexandrian (and Byzantine?) texts, and that the Western text preserved the original readings. If I'm remembering correctly Dr. Robinson felt they should be considered on a case-by-case basis, rather than making sweeping pronouncements—though I would point out that getting his own views on anything was always tricky. He was great at clarifying the positions of other scholars, and at showing what the consequences of those views might be; he was amazing at picking up suggestions thrown out in class and presenting how they might fit in with the larger body of knowledge; getting him to pronounce on what he thought was another matter altogether.

Anyway, to get back to the matter at hand, James D. Tabor muses over the restoration of these passages to certain modern translations, based largely on the testimony of P75, which, though an early representative of the Alexandrian text, is still, when all is said and done, just another representative of the Alexandrian text. There may well be good reasons to restore these passages to the text of Luke, but in the end the matter should not rest exclusively on the age of a particular exemplar of a text.

Recovering the original text of any ancient document requires a number of related approaches, and one is clearly the careful dating of the sequence of manuscript witnesses and variants. But the “older” is surely not the more original, and judgments of content and substance must finally prevail. I remain convinced, after all these years, that my initial judgment that Wescott and Hort’s position on the Western non-interpolations was self-evident remains the case.

Personally I've veered on that topic over the years, but the secondary nature of some of these passages (at least) seems manifest, whether supported by textual evidence or no. I mean, is it really likely that the original author of Luke-Acts would have had Jesus twice rise up into the sky (Lk 24:51 and Acts 1:9)? I mean, I can understand if he did why some scribe might remove the first reference in the interest of harmonization, but isn't it easier by far to suppose that some scribe added it to the end of Luke after Luke's separation from Acts? I mean, come on people, just because it was ancient times doesn't mean that everybody was batshit insane.

Anyway, James D. Tabor's piece is both interesting and relevant and is well worth reading. I enjoyed it, anyway.

1 comment:

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