Saturday, July 22, 2006

How not to compile an index

In the course of reading Wayne C. Kannaday's very interesting book: Apologetic Discourse and the Scribal Tradition: Evidence of the Influence of Apologetic Interests on the Text of the Canonical Gospels (Text-Critical Studies 5; Atlanta GA: SBL, 2004), I noticed a sadly humorous feature of his index.

A general index (of names of scholars and subjects combined) and an index of textual variants is provided. In both cases it would appear that they were constructed by computer without the benefit of sufficient human intelligence in the editing.
The index of textual variants follows a strictly alphabetical version of numerical order (e.g. 1, 10, 16, 2, 21, 3, 4, etc.) rather than the natural numerical order we should expect.

The general index included a rather full listing of sixteen page references next to Head, Peter, auguring well for some sustained dialogue (I presume I am not alone in occasionally checking an index to see whether I have made it into the discussion). Alas, most of them merely include the word ‘head’ somewhere on the page. I wondered whether it was only parts of the body that merited such treatment, or whether I was being singled out for some reason (disturbingly, the second and third of the references to me in the index refer to ‘the head of an ass’). An investigation of other potentially ambiguous names(‘Brown’, ‘Farmer’, ‘Gamble’, ‘Grant’, ‘Lake’, ‘Riddle’, ‘Tune’) uncovered a series of other errors: the first two references under Brown, Raymond p. 85 & 86, actually refer to Milton Brown, who has no index entry; one reference under Grant, R.M. p. 219 is to the verb ‘to grant’; five of the thirteen references under Lake, Kirsopp p 45, 85, 88, 253, 254 are actually to ‘Salt Lake City’; one reference under Riddle, D.W. p. 206 is to a ‘riddle’ which ‘remains unsolved’; two out of three references under Tune, E.W. are to a musical ‘tune’ p. 8, 78). To my mind this is not adequate; computers are very helpful, but they are not intelligent, for intelligence we need people, but in this respect the key people, both author and publisher, have failed to exercise sufficient critical control and intelligence.


  1. Alas, people who assume that computers are more intelligent than they often make the mistake of trusting the computer where they feel their own mental powers are deficient (or just slack), only to be, of course, let down--usually without being any the wiser.

    I get some interesting (sometimes comical) emails, obviously sent by people who have put this sort of trust in Google Translator.

  2. I wondered if you guys saw the debate between Bart Ehrman and William Lane Craig. The transcript is here:

  3. Thanks Ian, that's a good read. Ehrman and Richard Hays recently had a discussion at Duke that is still available in audio format here:

    Ehrman recites alot of the same things there that he does in the debate you reference.

    I was especially amused by the following explanation about the authorship of the Gospels:

    "The way it works is this: I’m a businessman in Ephesus, and somebody comes to town and tells me stories about Jesus, and on the basis of these stories I hear, I convert. I tell my wife these stories. She converts. She tells the next-door neighbor the stories. She converts. She tells her husband the stories. He converts. He goes on a business trip to Rome, and he tells people there the stories. They convert. Those people who’ve heard the stories in Rome, where did they hear
    them from? They heard them from the guy who lived next door to me. Well, was he there to see these things happen? No. Where’d he hear them from? He heard them from his wife. Where did his wife hear them from? Was she there? No. She heard them from my wife. Where did my wife
    hear them from? She heard them from me. Well, where did I hear them from? I wasn’t there either. Stories are in circulation year after year after year, and as a result of that, the stories get changed. How do we know that the stories got changed in the process of transmission? We know the stories got changed because there are numerous differences in our accounts that cannot be reconciled with one another."

    I have to admit I'm a little surprised that any reputable NT scholar would try to explain the differences in the Gospels by way of a long period of oral transmission of the same material before being written by any of the authors of the synoptics. This, of course, fails to explain the numerous and lengthy exact verbal parallels between them all that require either direct literary dependance, or a short enough period of oral transmission that the material would not have time to change (not the 30-60 years Ehrman insists on), or a miraculous superintending of the process, none of which seem to be allowed by Ehrman.

    Unfortunately, neither Craig nor Hays pressed him to defend this explanation. Perhaps Ehrman will rethink it once somebody does. So hopefully Steve Carlson hasn't wasted any HTML adding this new take on the Synoptic problem to his list.

  4. I had listened to the Hays/Ehrman discussion a little while ago and was surprised more by Hays that Ehrman. I had taken Hays to be more conservative than he appeared. In somse sense, it almost appeared as though he clamoured to prove the similarities with he had with Ehrman than the differences.
    Did anybody follow James White's evaluation of Ehrman about a year or so ago on his blog? Here is a cluster of his posts:
    I don't think White's text critic skills are on par with most of the folk here, but his stuff is usefull none-the-less.

  5. On Hays' conservatism. I hesitate to pin somebody down without using their own words. But I see him in mold similar to N. T. Wright. He made clear in that debate that he is no inerrantist. But this was completely expected, and clear enough from his publications. So I think there were a number of points in that discussion where he wanted to make clear that he and Ehrman share certain methodological things in common against the Southeastern Baptist crowd with whom they had previously appeared. Nevertheless, Hays was clearly more optimistic about the reliability of the Gospels than Ehrman, and indicated that conservative believers will find the core of their faith vindicated even if the Bible is fallible in the details. I do not know for a fact that he would affirm the historicity of the resurrection, but I have the distinct impression that he would.

    Interestingly in both debates/discussions Ehrman labelled himself as a historian, rather than a New Testament scholar. Of course this is not a false statement, as "historian" is a broad enough term to include a great deal of NT studies, certainly including textual criticism. I think one reason he embraces that label seems to be that he wants to separate his work from that of theology. He repeatedly distinguishes history from theology, asserting that any miraculous explanation of historical data is only the latter and never the former. Of course this very axiom is a theological one, and so defeats any claim Ehrman might make to doing history without theology. A more accurate distinction between Ehrman's approach to the historical evidence for the resurrection and Craig's is that Ehrman engages the evidence with his own materialistic theological system and that of the secular state university that employs him, whereas Craig engages the evidence with a theological system that allows and compels him to embrace the God in whose image he was made and who authored the Gospels that attest to His incarnate Son.

  6. Eric,
    I appreciate what you said about Ehrman preferring to think of himself as an historian. You are right, one cannot escape theological principles that shape ones scholarship or writing. I'm a follower of Van Til, so your words rung true in my heart!
    In the Ehrman/Hays discussion, I couldn't help but sense that Hays was playing up a bit to Ehrman, maybe for the laughter of the crowd? I can see how having been in the company of guys like Norm Geisler (I think it was Geisler) previously at Southeastern that they may have wanted to let their more liberal leaning feathers ruffle a bit! Did Geisler pound a table or something?
    It's funny how Hays can do such good work on the echoes of Scripture, which in my mind affirms inerrancy, yet not hold to inerrancy himself. That's why I prefer reading Wright!

  7. Geisler's place is called Southern Evangelical Seminary. It's in the area of Charlotte, NC. Southeastern is a Southern Baptist School in the Winston-Salem area, where Dave Black, Andreas Kostenberger, and our own Maurice Robinson are. Both schools are inerrantist AFAIK.

  8. "It's funny how Hays can do such good work on the echoes of Scripture, which in my mind affirms inerrancy, yet not hold to inerrancy himself. That's why I prefer reading Wright!"

    I think conservative believers have a friend in both Wright and Hays on the central issues. But Wright most certainly does not believe in inrrancy. And he criticizes those who do quite freely.

  9. Concerning Kannaday's book I found other depressing errors too. Look for example on the Greek fonts. Some of the epsilons look differently (more Coptic style). The final sigmas are actually stigmas...

  10. Yes, and I haven't even begun to talk about the argument yet!

  11. The most intelligent, and witty, thing I ever saw in an index was in the index to Desmond Connell's book The Vision in God, which is a philosophical study of angelic knowledge. The topic 'Vision of God' is listed in the index under 'God'. So when you get to the final entry of the index you read the following: 'Vision: see God.'
    No computer did that!