Thursday, October 09, 2008

Sinaiticus Spin on the BBC

I've now listened to the BBC programme by Roger Bolton here. The level of spin is pretty high, e.g. when we hear that the Shepherd of Hermas being 'dropped from the canon' (implying that it had a canonical status from which it could be dropped) and associating this with Constantine.

There is also a fascinating bit of editing, whereby the variant 'becoming angry' in Mark 1:41 is associated with Codex Sinaiticus (which of course doesn't have that reading). At 22 minutes 17 seconds into the recording we seem (at least from the intonation in David Parker's voice) to be breaking in midway through a sentence of his: '... in a codex Jesus is angry...'. The 'a' is almost sotto voce and the quotation continues discussing Mark 1:41. Then at 22 minutes 58 David is talking about 'the codex', meaning Sinaiticus. Since Roger Bolton's voice has interrupted between these two quotations one might suspect that a false join has been created between two quotations. Anyway, whatever happened Bolton has created the impression that it's Codex Sinaiticus 'the world's oldest Bible' which will shock Christians by revelations of an irascible Jesus.


Timo Flink said...

Someone should send a rebuttal to BBC.

James Snapp, Jr. said...

Is the David Parker in the BBC interview the same David Parker who wrote, in the Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible (p. 112),

"Mark ended his gospel abruptly and shockingly at 16:8. This was surprising to early Christianity, which by the end of the second century had produced several alternative endings. One short coda is found only in one Latin manuscript." This is the same fellow who wrote, on the same page, that the Byzantine Text "began to be formed from the sixth century."

Why am I not surprised to find his name floating in the BBC's fountain of inaccuracies?

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

P.J. Williams said...

I think the confusion presented by the BBC is more likely to stem from their editor than from the other contributors. The statements from the Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible would need to be viewed in their wider context to see whether they were misleading.

Daniel Buck said...

Peter (either one),
What's been your experience being interviewed on the subject of ancient mss by the mass media--are you typically misquoted or reduced to a sound bite?

P.J. Williams said...

I don't have much experience with the media, though I was filmed recently for the Discovery Channel. Basically you sign a 'release' in which you renounce almost every right imaginable about the material. Secondly, the interviewer typically asks you questions, but is not themselves recorded. They will then redo the questions as they edit the tape. This could mean that an unscrupulous editor could ask you a question to which the answer is one thing and then change the question, so that the published version looks like you're saying the opposite of what you meant. This is why you should be careful about judging what a scholar actually meant when they are on radio or TV and it's not live. At the same time, I imagine that most editors have reasonably high standards, otherwise they would not be allowed to continue.

Anonymous said...

David Parker remarked:

"Mark ended his gospel abruptly and shockingly at 16:8. This was surprising to early Christianity, which by the end of the second century had produced several alternative endings. One short coda is found only in one Latin manuscript."

Perhaps if scribes like that one of k had reflected on why St Mark ended his gospel this way the interpolations would never have found issuance ad nauseum of a heretical/docetic nature.


Anonymous said...

May I ask this question again since it got lost in a previous post out here.

Is the Sinaiticus the oldest Christian Bible? Dirk mentioned the Vaticanus, but it is not complete, right?

Thank you,

Peter M. Head said...

Neither Vaticanus nor Sinaiticus are complete Bibles.
I doubt whether there are any complete Greek Bibles if by that you mean still complete today.
Alexandrinus comes closest in the early period, but is missing various bits from 1 Sam; Pss; Matt; John and 2 Cor.

There are certainly Latin complete Bibles surviving.

James Snapp, Jr. said...


No; Sinaiticus is not the oldest Christian Bible.

Let me simplify the question by removing the factor of incidental damage to copies of the Bible, and define "Bible" as *pandect,* that is, a one-volume collection of the books of the Bible which originally contained (at least) all the books in the Christian canon.

Sinaiticus is the second-oldest pandect known to exist today. Codex Vaticanus is the oldest. Both of these MSS have experienced extensive damage and are missing some portions of their original contents. They also are missing some passages (sometimes a phrase, sometimes several lines of text) which their copyists accidentally skipped.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much. So, is it accurate to say that the Sinaiticus is the oldest complete (Greek or any other language) New Testament extant, or is any portion of the NT now missing due to damage, assuming long ending of Mark or pericope adulterae were intentionally not included?

James Snapp, Jr. said...

I just finished listening to Roger Bolton's report. His confusion over the variant in Mk. 1:41 is an entertaining tragedy; not only is the "orgisqeis" reading falsely associated with Codex Siniaticus, but Roger Bolton describes it as part of an encounter between Jesus and a *blind man,* rather than a leper. Alas, I already registered my complaint with the BBC before I heard that.

Anonymous, you asked if it would be accurate to say that Sinaiticus is the oldest complete unmutilated NT.

Technically no. If you were to add up all the loss of text in Sinaiticus that is the result of the carelessness of the copyists (overlooking the cases of Mk. 16:9-20 and Jn. 7:53-8:11), it would probably be just as bad, if not worse, as the amount of loss that would be incurred if a page or two had disappeared. To me it makes no difference how the loss occurred; a loss is a loss and an incomplete text is an incomplete text.

But technically, a MS in which a single line was lost would not strictly qualify as "complete." That's a mighty high hurdle for *any* MS to surmount.

So imho, the best way to put it is to put it vaguely: Codex Sinaiticus is the oldest single volume which contains all the books of the NT in the handwriting of its primary copyists.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Anonymous said...

James Snapp, jr.
"But technically, a MS in which a single line was lost would not strictly qualify as "complete." That's a mighty high hurdle for *any* MS to surmount."

Judged by these standards how would one deal with MS that have too much text. And I'm not thinking about simple dittographies.

Take Codex Bezae (05) as one of the most obvious examples. Apart from losses it also has hughe surplusses (Lk 5,14.27; 6,5.14; etc.).

Can surplusses be traded for losses?

Ulrich Schmid

Anonymous said...

Re: brainout's comment:

Two grammatical statements, both obviously incorrect. I hope this site can figure out a way of limiting such contributions. I've been very encouraged by the depth of scholarship out here; I'm hoping this is not a trend. I'm not suggesting censorship, but it has been rather refreshing to not have to weed out such comments like this.

Tommy Wasserman said...

I have deleted two comments upon request from the person who posted them.

Regarding censorship of comments, I thik we have seldom had to delete comments. For my part I have deleted two or three comments over the last years either because they contained ad hominem remarks, or were totally off-topic (and now upon request). So I think we have a rather good record so far.

Kevin Sam said...

The program on BBC seems to be unavailable now.

A. D. Hunt said...

James Snapp,

Amy Anderson owes her education to David C Parker, by whose guidance she was able to write her landmark work on Fam. 1 I wouldn't be so hard on him. If my esteemed professor would actually frequent this site of which she is a part I am sure she would defend him as well.

And yes, the Byzantine text IS late and did begin to form around this time