Friday, May 30, 2014

An Evil Conference at St Mary's in Twickenham

Last year Chris Keith, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary's University, Twickenham, invited me to present a paper at the conference "Evil in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity: Cultural, Historical, and Textual Approaches" on 23-24 May 2014, organized by the Centre for Social-Scientific Study of the Bible, for which Chris serves as director.

At first I planned to write up something on the number of the beast (616/666), but found out, by chance, that Jeff Cate had recently been working on this topic, and made a presentation at ETS Annual Meeting in 2013 (abstract here). So, I changed my plans and decided to look at some textual variants in the Gospels which somehow may relate to the concept of evil, in broader terms: Matt 27:16-17 (Jesus Barabbas); Luke 23:32 ("two other criminals"); and John 13:26 (he took [the bread] and...).

In the first part of my paper, titled "Variants of Evil: The Disassocation of Jesus from Evil in the Textual Tradition of the New Testament" I discuss criteria used to evaluate textual variation in the NT, and in particular the lectio difficilior potior; its application and limitations. I gave one example of a seemingly "evil variant" which has been discussed along those lines by Wayne Kannaday in his Apologetic Discourse (Mark 1:34b, and they [the demons] knew him [Jesus], where several MSS add "to be the Christ" with variation). Here I think the addition in the textual tradition of Mark is not due to the difficult notion that Jesus had some personal acquintance with the evil spirits, but the easiest explanation is to see the addition as a harmonization to the parallell in Luke 4:41. The bottom line is that "every problem which presents itself to the textual critic must be regarded as possibly unique" (Alfred E. Housman), and that this sound view will exclude every mechanical application of a single criterion to a passage, including the lectio difficilior.

So, in the second part of the paper I discussed my selected examples, where I think the criterion is applicable, and in these examples I propose that scribes may have softened the text to disassociate Jesus (and the eucharistic bread) from evil (represented by Barabbas, the two criminals that were crucified with him, Judas, Satan). I will not go into details here, but the conference papers are due out in the WUNT series (Mohr Siebeck) in 2015. Other presenters:
  • Loren Stuckenbruck (keynote speaker, LMU-München) 
  • James Crossley (University of Sheffield),
  • Chris Keith (St Mary’s University),
  • Louise J. Lawrence (University of Exeter),
  • Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer (University of Aberdeen),
  • Susanne Luther (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz),
  • Lloyd Pietersen (formerly University of Gloucestershire),
  • Christopher Rollston (Tel Aviv University),
  • Dieter T. Roth (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz),
  • Christopher Skinner (Mount Olive College),
  • Chris Tilling (St Mellitus College),
  • Steve Walton (St Mary’s University/Tyndale House, Cambridge)
  • Benjamin Wold (Trinity College, Dublin).
The full programme is here.

See Steve Walton's excellent blogpost summary of most of the papers, ("An evil success! The St Mary's conference on evil").

Finally, I would like to share my final slide which I didn't get the chance to show in my presentation because I was out of time, and it did not belong to the paper proper – so I post it here instead (run presentation and click arrow). 


  1. They are quite different aren't they these three variant readings and with multiple potential motivations. I'm not sure if this was your point Tommy, but giving preference to the more difficult reading will solve each of these three.

  2. Thanks Pete, that was the idea – to apply the lectio difficilior to these problems, in texts related to evil (in a broad sense, evil persons like Barabbas or the robbers, and the difficult notion of Jesus offering eucharistic bread to Judas, who is then possessed by Satan). I think the criterion is decisive in these cases.

  3. Tommy,

    I remain puzzled as to how the non-inclusion of λαμβανει και (which is the variant to which I think you are referring) supposedly eliminates or even softens the matter of Jesus giving the morsel of bread (not necessarily eucharistic at this point) to Judas.

    Even without those words, the text still says, "Having dipped in the morsel, he gives it to Judas etc."

    Unless you are reading later liturgical practice (i.e., elevation of the host) into the text, I simply don't see an issue such as you describe in the context.

    Or am I missing something?

  4. Maurice, it is good that you are puzzled – maybe my essay can then bring some new light on that passage ;-).

    For ancient readers, it was an open question whether this was the eucharistic bread (and this is still debated among modern scholars). The longer reading including the words λαμβανει και significantly enhances a eucharistic interpretation (just see Metzger, Textual Commentary). The difficult passage caused Augustine to write his Tractate 62, which is very interesting. Origen also has some interesting ideas (perhaps Judas didn't eat the bread ... Satan saw what was coming and entered him before he ate the bread).