Why are there no early Aramaic or Hebrew Manuscripts?

Bible Difficulty #9

There are well over 5000 NT manuscripts.  In many languages, but mostly in Greek and Latin.  And the earliest of Manuscripts are in Greek.  However, not one is in the natural language of Jesus and his disciples….Hebrew/Aramaic.  This is one I have been researching to some degree lately; but the problem is that I can’t find any scholarly answers.  Even the theological answers seem to be lacking.

To put it in context Imagine a story of a great & wise person who is performing all these miracles in Tampa, FL.  This person has turned water into wine.  They have healed the sick, raised the dead, walked on water, and has a following counting anywhere between 6,000 to 10,000 people.

This unique story of this miracle worker has caught the attention of the people in Honduras. And the Honduran people who have been hearing this wonderful story of this miraculous person doing all these miracles; -have become deeply committed converts following in the teachings of this Floridian miracle worker.  Reading and studying the miracle workers teachings in Spanish.  And even setting up churches and devoting their lives to the teachings of this miracle worker. 

After much time had passed; several Hondurans noticed that all the articles and works about this person who is from America, are all published and written in Spanish.  Not one is in the native language of this miracle worker.  In fact, when they go back to Tampa, FL, to find his original writings in his native language they can’t find any.  They don’t exist.  In addition to that his so-called thousands of followers, are also nowhere to be found.  There is no evidence of a following in Tampa.  In point, when they begin to question people from that region; they can barely find information on this miracle worker. Even the famous Floridian historians from that region can’t give an account to the miracle worker.

On the other hand back in Mexico they can find over 5000 manuscripts and articles about this miracle worker in Spanish, but nothing in his natural tongue English.  (With the earliest of these spanish manuscripts dating to about 150 years after the death of this miracle worker.)  Not only that, when they we go back to check the court records for trials and executions, the evidence is lacking in that area also.  And we know through our historical research the Floridians kept good records.

So, What is wrong with this picture?

Final Opinion and Thoughts: I really couldn’t find a good scholarly, academic or sufficient theological answer to this question and/or bible difficulty.  Really to get another illustration on this claim of discrepant accuracy of the early N.T. manuscripts, check out the GrandFather Gospel Challenge

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About M. Rodriguez

When I first received Christ salvation, I made it a priority to read the whole bible and I did. But it was the Bible that made me question my faith. For I found it flawed and lacking. Due to this I launched a personal inquiry/investigation into my faith, and ultimately realized that the Christian God of the Bible was indeed man-made. Now I Blog about those findings and life after Christ.
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51 Responses to Why are there no early Aramaic or Hebrew Manuscripts?

  1. Don Hartness says:

    I’m sorry, I don’t see the argument.

    The assumption here is that Jesus and his early disciples only spoke Hebrew/Aramaic. However, there are those that dispute this, as it is entirely possible Jesus and his disciples spoke Greek. Here is a scholarly article making this argument, although I admit that I did not have the chance to read it entirely. I submit it here for your research:

    http://www.ntgreek.org/SeminaryPaper /Evidence%20from%20History%20and%20the%20Gospels%20that%20Jesus%20Spoke%20Greek.pdf

    Regardless, I don’t see the argument here. First, the Greek language was prevalent in the area for a few hundred years, since Alexander. Although it is reasonable to assume that Jesus, or any Hebrew teacher for that matter, would have preached and taught in Aramaic as a cultural tradition, I think it would be fallacious to assume that this cultural preference negated the understanding and use of Greek as well. It’s no different than when Latin American families in this country speak mostly Spanish in the home, but mostly English on the outside, while often interchanging freely back and forth in the course of a single conversation.

    Second, the Christian gospel was rejected by the majority of Judaism. Since the goal was to evangelize the Gentiles, why wouldn’t they use anything other than the most widely-spoken language in the Mediterranean at that time, both in speech and writing? The written accounts (gospels and letters) were definitely written some time after the life of Jesus; that much is clear. But this further supports the use of Greek, since the writers were addressing their intended audience.

    Lastly, the analogy is skewered, IMO. Greek was to the ancient world what English is to the modern world – the language of commerce and, by default, the most widely spoken language in that region. If I were to rewrite this analogy, I think it would be more appropriate to put this miracle worker in some obscure African nation that spoke Swahili. With this analogy, we could also introduce other facts, such as the likely illiteracy of some of the key followers, or the high illiteracy of the general population as possible additional reasons for the lack of Swahili based accounts.

    In regards to the other thesis nested in the middle of this analogy and supported by the links, I’ll have to defer to a later time, of which I apologize.

    • you said

      “However, there are those that dispute this, as it is entirely possible Jesus and his disciples spoke Greek. ”

      I’m sure this is possible, but it doesn’t seem to flow that their main language as a Jew would be Greek. First off, the canonical Gospels quote Jesus in Aramaic when speaking to his fellow Jews. Secondly, if Greek was the common tongue of Jews living at this time, then why the important Jewish writings (Talmud-Mishna, Gemara) of that time period written in Hebrew and Aramaic? It just doesn’t bode well that we have centuries worth of Jewish writings from this period written in these 2 languages, but no copies of Christian writings until the Peshitta in the 4th century.

    • M. Rodriguez says:

      I don’t assume that Jesus only spoke aramaic. He lived in a time, where his culture was greatly influenced by the greco-roman society. And his society was colonized by the romans. He was a Hellenistic Jew. So it very reasonable to assume that he could of atleast spoke Greek. And if he didn’t, probably one of his disciples did. However this really does answer the core question, becuase in context. If the bible claims are true, then Jesus must of had a following Well over 6000 people. To put that in context, thats the size of a small city in the 1st century. that is not a small number. It would be unreasonable to assume that if this story of a following is true, that a Christian Jew following Jesus would not document something like this in a diary or anything.

      And don’t forget, their is the census, the accounts of the census neither confirm the biblical record of Jesus. This leaves one questioning the authenticity of the story.

      I actually do assume that Jesus and apostles, probably did speak Greek. Atleast 2 or 3 in the group probably did. However that still should not excuse the reasonable expectation, that if one was write a story, they would first write in their primary language, the one they are born with and raised speaking, before they ever write it in greek.

  2. unklee says:

    Another factor BR. Literacy was not high in the ancient world, though probably higher among Jews because of their emphasis on knowing the written law. (Some scholars discuss whether Jesus could read or write, though I think most think that he could.) In many respects it was an oral culture, and oral transmission of stories has been shown to be very accurate.

    So it is likely that only a few who witnessed the events of Jesus’ life wrote it down, most simply passed it on orally. It was only later, perhaps when the eyewitnesses were getting thin on the ground, that they decided to write it all down. And by then, Greek was the obvious language to use, to communicate the gospel in the Roman world.

    But historians such as Maurice Casey can find evidence or “Aramaisms” behind the Greek text, and Papias, writing at the beginning of the second century, reported that Matthew wrote down sayings of Jesus in Aramaic and they were later translated into Greek, perhaps to form one source of Matthew’s Gospel.

    So what we have seems quite logical.

    • M. Rodriguez says:

      This would make sense if the Bible only implied that Jesus’ following only numbered in the few dozens. However, if this story of him of feeding 4000 and 5000, were true, it would only be reasonable to assume that a Palestine Jew at this time in history would write it down in Aramaic or Hebrew if they were educated in the language.

      *However I would give this to you, your answer is the most possible I’ve seen so far. but not the most obviously reasonable. it however that does still take away from the reliabilities of the scriptures, because oral tradition and translation is not the most accurate.

      and that also leaves hokes in other parts of the story such as…..In addition to that his so-called thousands of followers, are also nowhere to be found. There is no evidence of a following, this in my opinion is huge considering he is man who waked on water and raised the dead. and fed such large crowds.

  3. ubi dubium says:

    Passing down the stories orally turns transmitting the stories into a giant game of “telephone”. Oral transmission of stories is not accurate at all. (unklee, citation needed for your claim that it is.) Even in the memory of a single person, research has shown that memory changes over time and becomes increasingly unreliable. Even if it was reasonably reliable, if Jesus was speaking in Aramaic and the first manuscripts were written in Greek, then we don’t have ANY of the words Jesus originally said.

    Another problem I always had with the gospels is this: If Jesus were bringing the most important message from god that had ever been communicated to humans, why didn’t he write it down himself? Or get a scribe to take some dictation? Why do we never read, “And verily I say unto thee (Ian, write this part down, it’s really important), verily I say…” Was this divine being illiterate? Or didn’t know that books were going to be important in the future? (Muhammad supposedly thought to make sure his message got written down.) And why have the original manuscripts not survived? If the bible is how god wants to talk to people, wouldn’t it have been easy for him to be sure that the original survived so there would be no disagreement on what the text actually says? Instead we have a confusing jumble of ancient manuscripts that don’t agree with each other. Hardly godlike, that.

  4. unklee says:

    “Passing down the stories orally turns transmitting the stories into a giant game of “telephone”. Oral transmission of stories is not accurate at all. (unklee, citation needed for your claim that it is.)”

    I believe the evidence shows that your understanding of oral transmission is mistaken, and my statement is basically correct. I can only give a brief reference list here, but am willing to expand on any point.

    1. Many oral societies pass on their valued stories and traditions very accurately. (Vansina, Oral Tradition, Keener, The historical Jesus of the gospels, p 140 – both give examples. Casey (Jesus of Nazareth, p 48 says this isn’t necessarily so, agreeing that it often is. Bailey, quoted in Bauckham: Jesus and the eyewitnesses, p 255ff, p271ff and & Vansina say that the accuracy depends on the type of tradition – historical accounts are much more accurate that tales. In some cases, Vansina & Bailey report that single word deviations are not allowed by the hearers, who also know the stories. Keener reports (p139) that many ancient writers preferred oral sources, especially eyewitnesses, rather than written.

    2. Jewish teachers at the time were known to teach their disciples to memorise large chunks of material (Dickson, The Christ Files, p67, Bauckham, p249, referencing Gerhardsson) . They did this via mnemonics, parallelism, rhyme, etc. As Jesus was known as a rabbi, it is likely he used similar methods, though less formally, and scholars can see evidence of some of these techniques in Jesus’ teaching.

    3. Scholars (e.g. Dunn in Jesus Remembered & Wright, referenced in Dickson (p68), Casey (p48 – though he disagrees with Dunn) & Bauckham (p252ff), therefore have concluded that it is likely that the oral history was transmitted using either informal controlled transmission (Dunn, Wright) or formal controlled transmission (Bauckham), both of which have been observed in oral societies today, and are hinted at in some of the sources. This “control” meant that the transmission was checked at every telling by others who knew the same stories, including those who originally told them – remember, the oral transmission was well within living memory.

    4. Casey is a dissenter to this view of oral transmission, believing that much more was written down early than most other scholars have concluded. But this doesn’t help your case, because this means Mark was written within a decade of Jesus’ death, and Matthew shortly after, which preserves the stories even more accurately.

    So that is a summary of what I understand the scholarly consensus to be, using books that I have readily to hand.

    May I now ask please what citation you can give for your more sceptical view of oral transmission?

    Thanks and best wishes.

    • unklee says:

      I forgot to add that Bart Ehrman, in Jesus Interrupted is more sceptical of the validity of oral tradition, but the main examples he gives are of differences between the traditions rather than differences in the transmission of one set of traditions. He doesn’t (as far as I can recall) utilise the work of Bailey or Vansina, and may therefore be a little out of date there. What I presented remains the general consensus as far as I can tell, though of course there are dissenters like Ehrman and (to a degree) Casey.

  5. unklee says:

    “I believe he means no Aramaic copies of christian NT writings.”

    I see. But I don’t understand. Historians say only a very small percentage of artefacts survive, and documents are among the more fragile. We have very few early copies of the NT in any language, and we’d be even less likely to have early copies of other documents such as written sources of the gospels, except as they appear in the gospels themselves. So we have what you’d expect, copies of the Aramaic NT, plus the occasional other document (e.g. the Diatessaron), not dated very early because the older copies were used and copied until they were worn out or lost.

    But I don’t understand what that shows us, beyond what I said, that’s it’s what you’d expect.

  6. unklee says:

    “it would only be reasonable to assume that a Palestine Jew at this time in history would write it down in Aramaic or Hebrew if they were educated in the language”

    It might be reasonable to you, but possibly not to a first century person. Many were not literate, or able to read but not write. And scholars generally believe some wrote down their stories, Casey thinks a significant amount was written down. The question is, how much has survived? We have what we need in the gospels (much more than what we have for most documents of that time, suggesting that God ensured that sufficient was preserved), why worry of even more has been lost?

    “his so-called thousands of followers, are also nowhere to be found. There is no evidence of a following, this in my opinion is huge considering he is man who waked on water and raised the dead. and fed such large crowds.”

    What do you mean, BR? The christian church is one of the success stories of history – he has the biggest set of followers of any person ever! In his day, he had many followers, but many were offended by him because he didn’t conform to their expectations of a Messiah. And just like today, many were sceptical.If he hadn’t made some sort of splash, we wouldn’t be discussing him today.

    • Then why do we have Jewish writings in Hebrew and Aramaic from the same time period? It does seem to stretch credulity that somehow Jewish historians that lived at the same time as Jesus fail to mention some of the more incredible events as told in the Gospels. Scores of people fed, saints of old rising from the dead and walking the streets of Jerusalem, the temple curtain ripped in two,

      The only mention of these events are in Greek manuscripts copied at least 150-300 years after the events supposedly took place.

    • ... Zoe ~ says:

      Maybe if not for the printing press we wouldn’t be discussing him at all.

  7. unklee says:

    “It does seem to stretch credulity that somehow Jewish historians that lived at the same time as Jesus fail to mention some of the more incredible events as told in the Gospels.”

    I’m not sure who you expect to mention Jesus. I have read that there were a number of Messianic-type prophets or rebels around Jesus’ time – Athronges, an un-named Samaritan, Theudas and an un-named Egyptian – who made a bigger splash militarily than Jesus, and no contemporary Jewish writer mentions them at all, except Josephus, who also mentions Jesus. So can you be more specific about who you would have expected to mention Jesus, and didn’t?

    I think there is a real danger here, of non-experts applying inappropriate criteria to this question. It’s a bit like a creationist arguing that some aspect of evolution doesn’t make sense when they lack the scientific understanding to comment. The experts are quite sure that the gospels were written in the first century, some think that they were very early, and what we “expect” to find is probably not relevant. Of course some inexpert sceptics say otherwise, but I’d go with the experts rather than the conspiracy theorists here, just as I would with the evolution question.

    • Steven Carr says:

      ‘I’m not sure who you expect to mention Jesus. ‘

      Err, would you expect Paul to mention any miracles Jesus did, instead of scoffing at Jews for expecting Christianity to have stories of miracles?

      Still, we would not expect people to talk about the Son of God living among them.

      That’s sorted that out.

      What if he were one of us?

      If he were one of us, almost nobody would notice and you would not expect anybody to write about him.

      • M. Rodriguez says:

        I’m not sure who you expect to mention Jesus

        Actually I would expect a few of his thousands of followers to write about him. Considering he fed crowds of 4000 and 5000 men, (not including children and women). I would expect pilate to write, considering tbe uproar of his trial and execution. I would expect census records to atleast confirm his existence. Even in secular history, I would expect PHILO or some other writers from that same time period to write about him.

        Clearly if Jesus existed today and was doing all these miracles, people would notice him, because he would be on Youtube.

      • Steven Carr says:

        Paul says the big advantage the Jews had was that they had been given the scriptures.

        What? Having Jesus live among them was not an advantage?

        In fact, Paul asks how Jews could be expected to believe in Jesus because they had never heard of him until Christians were sent to preach about him.

      • M. Rodriguez says:

        I’m not sure if I follow your point. U can further explain.

  8. unklee says:

    “Actually I would expect a few of his thousands of followers to write about him.”

    But Marcus, relatively few people could write in those days. Many remembered and told the stories, and some wrote them down, just as you’d expect, and just as Luke says (Luke 1:1-4).

    “I would expect pilate to write”

    As far as I know, we have none of Pilate’s records at all – not this, not anything else. This was far from the biggest matter he had to deal with.

    “Clearly if Jesus existed today and was doing all these miracles, people would notice him, because he would be on Youtube.”

    Of course, but there is a big difference between now and then. The Romans were interested in affairs of state and the empire, not an obscure Jewish carpenter who was one of thousands they executed. We see the events through the lens of the Bible and christian belief, but they didn’t. And we only have a very small percentage of what was written down anyway.

    I really think you are misunderstanding this matter in its historical context. By historical standards, we have abundant evidence, preserved in many, many copies of many documents.

    Paul Maier: “Many facts from antiquity rest on just one ancient source, while two or three sources in agreement generally render the fact unimpeachable.”

    John A.T. Robinson:“The wealth of manuscripts, and above all the narrow interval of time between the writing and the earliest extant copies, make it by far the best attested text of any ancient writing in the world.”

    • M. Rodriguez says:

      yes, we do have an abundace of NT manuscripts, and dating way earlier than most writings of history, However we are talking about the Word of God, should we not hold it to a higher concern of having very early copies. And remember these writings are also considered eyewitness accounts…but are somewhat lacking in creditablitiy in that area, as I have written before. https://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/third-person-gospels/

      I’m not saying they are not reliable to original copy, what I am saying, Why is it, that those who heard the original story, watch the story, and repeated the story, not in the language of those in the story. Considering the content of the vast following and the miracles.

      And from my understanding, there have been resources found on pilate, but on don’t know how much.

      • unklee says:

        Marcus, why do you think the Bible is “the word of God”, and what do you understand by that phrase? (I don’t know of anywhere that it says that, only that it records some words of God.)

        You may be interested to know that historian Maurice Casey, who is not a christian or a theist and is an expert on the Aramaic language, is convinced that Mark’s gospel shows clear signs of much of it having been translated from Aramaic into Greek as early as 40 CE, making its original Aramaic documents written only a few years after Jesus’ death. I don’t think many other scholars yet accept what he argues, but it must give us cause for wondering – after all, Casey isn’t a crackpot but a very experienced and respected scholar.

        What if your scepticism about the gospels was based on a faulty theory about its date and transmission?

      • M. Rodriguez says:

        why do you think the Bible is “the word of God”, and what do you understand by that phrase?

        I would say tradition, church, and the bible itself. Because the bible is interpreted and perceived as being authoritative on the mind of God, I and many others would generally consider it the Word of God.

  9. exrelayman says:

    “But Marcus, relatively few people could write in those days.” – Remsberg, in The Christ, listed a number of educated writers on religious and historical matters, contemporary to the Christ and living in the Levant, who could hardly fail to notice and write about one whose fame and notoriety drew people from all over the region as scripture claims, and whose activities aligned with their areas of interest and writings. From all of these illustrious secular writers, deafening silence about the famous and notorious Jesus and the marvelous darkness over the land at his cruci fiction.

    Josephus is the earliest non Christian writer to allegedly mention Jesus. You must be aware that Josephus writing about Jesus would be like me writing today about events in WW2 – not contemporary.. But that isn’t the half of it. The ‘Testimonium’ is much disputed, as you should well know.

    The quote about the narrow interval of time between the writing and earliest extant copies is a bit of a red herring: the time interval of interest is that between the alleged events and any extant copy. Even this may not matter, were not Rastafarians deifying Salassie during his lifetime over his objections? So close in time = true doesn’t ring true to necessarily.

    Ehrman has dealt, to my satisfaction, with the reliability of the ‘wealth of copies’: succinctly here stated as almost none of them the same, most with trivial differences, but some with important differences. It’s a good thing the oral transmission was so marvelously precise as you have claimed, because the canonical gospels sure show that it got less precise and accurate when writing came into play.

    Speaking of important differences, how about the differences, ab initio, between say the gnostic, Arian, docetic, Mandean, and Marcionite versions of the understandings of the early Christian period (this is off the top of my head, I’m pretty sure there there were some others). There seems to have been vast disagreement even at the outset of the infant faith. The contemporary Mandeans even made John the Babtist the main honcho instead of Jesus. To the winner went ‘orthodoxy’.

    The Jews apparently did not notice Jesus among them, the only Talmudic references to such a figure being disparaging reactions, a couple of centuries after his supposed time among them, to the nascent Christian literature.

    There are scholars, the equal of your expert scholars, writing in support of the Mormon and Muslim faiths. There are atheist scholars, a goodly number of whom (off the top of my head, Loftus, Barker, Till, Templeton, Wheless, Remsberg, Ehrman, and Price) were Christians before critical thought led them away from the faith. Ingersoll, was the son of a preacher. Why, other than supporting your mainstream thinking, are your expert scholars to be considered more expert than any of these others?

    • unklee says:

      G’day exrelayman,

      We have discussed some of these things before, and we are agreed that our discussion can be courteous. This time the question is how much we would expect contemporary writers to report the events in the gospels. I am not concerned to argue with you about your belief or lack of belief, I only wish to establish what are the best historical facts.

      I believe you have not based your own ideas on expert knowledge, and therefore they are mostly mistaken. So rather than spell this out in detail (since I have done that before) I wonder if you would be willing, please, to first substantiate what you have written, giving references to reputable scholars.

      1. Which contemporary writers do you think should have written about Jesus yet didn’t, and on what basis do you think that?

      2. How close to the events do you think writings need to be in the first century to be reliable? On what basis do you make that criterion?

      3. Which of Bart Ehrman’s “important differences” do you think makes your case best (feel free to choose several)? How accurate do you think copying needed to be over the thousands of manuscripts to satisfy you?

      4. What requirements should someone satisfy for you to call them an “expert scholar”, and how do the names you have mentioned meet these requirements?

      I’m sorry if that sounds like an exam, but I think it is the best way to test the accuracy of your points. I will then respond. Thanks, and best wishes.

  10. exrelayman says:

    Too much of job your trying to lay on me Unklee! For one thing I don’t own most of the books I have read and am going by memory. I will however respond to your comment in my own manner.

    Experts: I reckon being seminary trained to be the case for most of the specific names listed earlier. I specified known persons who were likely Christian and so trained before becoming atheist writers. I refrained from listing writers like Bauer, Renan, Wrede, Carrier, Thompson, Steven Law, Hume, Spinoza, many Jesus Seminar scholars, and the Dutch radicals. Is it for me to prove they are expert enough, or for you to prove they aren’t? It gets old being told ‘my scholars are experts, yours are not because not mainstream’. I am cognizant of scholarship on all sides of the issue, and have had to choose ‘who made the most sense to me’ – that is the only criterion reasonable people can have. Your silence about my mention of Muslim and Mormon scholars is interesting. I guess they are dismissible because not mainstream enough in your culture.

    1) The answer is already in my first comment. You want the specific names, you or any lurker can look up Remsberg as easy as me.

    2) Already treated in the allusion to the phenomenon with Selassie – absolutely wrong material contemporaneous to him. Closer in time, on general principles, is good, but assures nothing. To assess how much time has how much significance is to me a futile exercise in armchair philosophizing. I would think more time allows more room for error to creep in, but even zero time can have some error, or as demonstrated by Selassie, be dead wrong.

    3) An error, vision, or misinterpretation, meticulously copied thousands of times is still and error, vision, or misinterpretation. The ‘wealth of copies’ does nothing for me.

    4) Oops, looks like I answered point 4 before I started numbering!

  11. unklee says:

    G’day exrelayman,

    “Experts: I reckon being seminary trained to be the case for most of the specific names listed earlier. I specified known persons who were likely Christian and so trained before becoming atheist writers.”

    I am glad you started here. I’m not sure if you see these as your criteria, but I think they are inadequate. Mine would be as follows:

    1. Relevant qualification (usually a relevant PhD).
    2. Currently active in the field (NT history or associated).
    3. Publishes in peer-reviewed journals (so they are reviewed adequately, just like scientists).
    4. Respected by their peers.
    5. I try to quote a balance of believers and non-believers, just for balance.

    There are many writers who don’t meet many of these requirements, some who meet them all. I would say my main list of Michael Grant, Bart Ehrman, Maurice Casey, EP Sanders (non-believers) and NT Wright, Richard Bauckham and Craig Evans (believers) meet pretty much all requirements (except Grant is now dead and I think Sanders is retired).

    When I look at your list, I find it is very different.

    Loftus: Not a NT scholar (though he has Master degrees in Philosophy & Theology), isn’t working in the field, etc.
    Barker is even less qualified, having only a religion degree, and having no credentials as a NT historian.
    Till – I presume you mean Farrell Till, who has a MA, but no credentials in NT history
    Charles Templeton has no academic qualification and has done no work in NT history.
    Joseph Wheless was a self taught lawyer with no qualifications or credentials in NT history, and he died 60 years ago, before much of the evidence was discovered.
    Remsberg also had no academic qualifications and lived a century ago, so his views on NT history are way out of date.
    Ehrman is a genuine scholar and meets the criteria I set out.
    Price is also a qualified scholar, but not well-respected – for example, Ehrman is very critical of him.

    So what you have is a bunch of sceptical evangelists with clear bias and no real credentials in NT history, plus two scholars, one well respect, one not so. Two of them lived before some of the most important discoveries in NT culture, language, archaeology and history, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, making their views quite useless. (I find it interesting that so many sceptics depend so much on outdated non-experts.)

    I am finding the next bit difficult to write, lest I appear nasty or patronsising, so please know I am trying my best not to be offensive.

    1. As I said at the start, you are free to hold whatever opinion you choose, but when we discuss background facts, we need to be strict with where we get our information. It is facts only which I am discussing here.

    2. This is a very sad list of so-called experts. There is no way you can be credible in discussing NT evidence based on this list. Worse is the fact that you have impugned my objectivity by suggesting I have used biased scholars when (a) I have in fact used balanced and some of the most respected scholars and (b) you have used such a sad and sorry list. If these are the basis of your views about Jesus, there you are living as much in denial of evidence as any christian you have ever criticised.

    3. I am unsure of why it has come to this, but I will assume that you have based your opinions on these writers in good faith. You now have the choice of dismissing what I say and continuing on in your “faith” about these matters, or you can choose to properly investigate if what I say is true (I don’t expect you or anyone else to simply believe me). Do this by finding out who are the best scholars, and read something on each side. You will the be in a position to have an informed opinion, whatever opinion you finally come to.

    4. My suggestion is you start with someone like Maurice Casey, who is a non-believer, an experienced historian and a strong writer, and read his “Jesus of Nazareth”. I don’t agree with everything he writes, and neither do other scholars, but you’ll find plenty of ammunition to criticise christianity there, and at least it will be based on good history. Then, if you really want to be open to the evidence, read NT Wright’s “Simply Jesus”, a popular summary (less academic than Casey’s) by a respected historian who is a christian.

    So, I’ve said enough. I won’t answer anything else you have written at this stage, because until we resolve where we can safely get facts from, nothing else can be resolved. I’m sorry to be so critical, but truth demands that I lay it on the table for you to decide which direction you will go in. Best wishes.

  12. exrelayman says:

    No offense taken. The disagreeing without being disagreeable has been pretty well done.

    For the most part ideas progress, new and better thinking replaces old inferior thinking as more information is discovered. But that is only ‘for the most part’. We still use the principles put into practical use by the Wright brothers – perhaps we are foolish to do so, they only had a high school education! We still use penicillin, nearly a century old. On the other hand, we have discarded Ptolemy’s thinking and Newtonian physics. So ‘for the most part’ has its exceptions. So also when ‘for the most part’ is applied using amount of formal education to assess quality of thinking. Your guideline is not a bad guideline, even a pretty good guideline, but for me it is not to be followed slavishly. Good thinking is not exclusively dependent on education level, though a correlation should of course be the general rule.

    What you have done here seems to me to basically be the ‘Courtier’s Reply’. I can, for instance, see for myself, whether a Jesus story is merely a reworked Elijah story as I examine ‘New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash’ at Bob Price’s site. I can see for myself whether Mark seems to have copied from Homer and other Greeks when reading McDonald’s book on the topic.

    I suspect we both have some bias, I would certainly not try to pretend that I or anyone is bias free. But my initial bias was that of a believer, seeking through investigation to deal with doubts that were arising. It backfired, and I am so convinced in the other direction that I must have a new bias 180 degrees from my old bias. All of the Christian, Mormon, Muslim faiths simply rest on words in a book. Almost like star wars, they refer to incredible events ‘long ago and far away’, and are attested to by unknown writers showing signs of what the modern mind terms plagiarism. The fact that it doesn’t take a phd to observe this doesn’t trouble me. And the invitation to spend a significant portion of my time and money studying your approved scholars has no appeal. Why should I not allot a similar amount of time and money to Mormon or Muslim scholarship?

    Well, we both knew it was total loggerheads from the outset. You have a good day, Unklee.

  13. unklee says:

    “There is a really good debate on this topic with Dr. Ehrman and Dr. Daniel Wallace, on the relaibiltiy of the scripture.”

    Marcus, you need to read some Bart Ehrman for yourself, if you haven’t already. In his “Misquoting Jesus”, he discusses the apparent changes in the NT text and makes the claim that the text has been “radically altered”. But if you go through the examples he himself gives, you find that this claim is heavily overstated. In fact (using Ehrman’s own facts):

    (1) two large passages and one short one (25 words in English) have been added and 3 words changed in another, but most modern Bibles recognise this and either make the changes to the “correct” text or at least note the changes in a footnote, and

    (2) there is uncertainty about 4 other passages, with the most serious being whether Jesus was “angry” or “moved with compassion”. (Seriously!)

    Apart from that, none of the copying errors amount to anything, as Ehrman himself admits. Ehrman is an engaging writing who provides good information, but his quotable conclusions are sensationalised way beyond his own analysis.

    You really need to read him for yourself and see that what I say is true. See the details in How reliable is the New Testament text?.

    Best wishes.

  14. unklee says:

    “I would say tradition, church, and the bible itself. Because the bible is interpreted and perceived as being authoritative on the mind of God, I and many others would generally consider it the Word of God.”


    (1) “authoritative” doesn’t = “word of God” – many writings are authoritative without being the word of God.
    (2) I have studied the question in detail, and I am not aware of any passage that unambiguously claims “The Bible” = “the word of God”.
    (3) Many christians think the same way.
    (4) I always find it interesting that those who don’t believe the Bible often claim more for it than those who do believe. I still think your rejection of the Bible is because you had an unrealistic view of it, and if you had a more realistic view of it, you would find many of your objections would not be valid.

  15. unklee says:

    “what would you describe as the word of God?”

    I investigated this in detail a few years ago, and from what I can remember, there are three meanings for this phrase in the Bible:

    1. When God speaks to someone, generally a prophet in the OT – “And the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel”.(e.g. Ezekiel 21:1)
    2. Jesus is the “Word” in John 1.
    3. In Acts, Luke reports that “the word of God spread ….” (e.g. Acts 6:7), while Jesus talks about the word of God” in the parable of the sower (Luke 8:11). Here the phrase obviously means the message about God/Jesus.

    “Does that mean you don’t consider the bible the word of god?”

    Do you know anywhere in the Bible that says this clearly? I don’t. Clearly there is a connection – the NT is about Jesus, the Word; the OT contains the words of God given to the prophets; and the whole Bible is the message about God/Jesus. But I don’t know of anywhere where the Bible itself and as a whole is said to be the word or words of God.

    This whole matter is important, because people make the jump from word of God = words of God = perfect in every way. Then when, like you, they find they can’t believe it is perfectly historical, accurate and true in every way, they give up all belief in it altogether. But if we start with what the Bible says about itself, and how Jesus and the apostles view the OT, and what the historians tell us, we can find there is much we can believe and understand far better.

    • M. Rodriguez says:

      I see your point. But I would say it is a reasonable inference from john 1. And also from 2 Timothy 3:16. It may not say it? Explicitly, but I would say it is rational to conclude that since all scripture is inspired or god-breathed. And the writings of chapter 1 of john. It would not be wrong to deduce the bible as the words of god.

      • unklee says:

        I guess each person will draw different conclusions. But I don’t think it is an obvious inference. The 66 “books” of the Bible were clearly written by human authors (there is nothing like the golden plates of the book of Mormon), the authors have their own styles, and while some sections report words from God, none (that I can recall) claim that God dictated the words to them. So whatever “God-breathed” means, it seems to mean something less than God dictating the words.

        And I can’t see any claim in John 1 except that Jesus is the “Word” – obviously not a strictly literal expression, and not saying anything about the Bible.

        I can understand that you and many others (including me) were brought up to believe that the Bible = the word of God, but I think when the Bible is examined, it doesn’t say that. I think we would be better to simply call it “the Scriptures” and let it speak for itself.

      • M. Rodriguez says:

        Considering our conversation, i found this source on the christian site CARM. http://carm.org/bible-isnt-word-god-it-contains-word-god

  16. unklee says:

    Yes, that is the usual view. But it doesn’t alter the fact, as far as I know, that the Bible itself never directly identifies the Bible as the word of God.

    I forgot to say before that I think God often speaks to us through the Spirit and the Bible together, and that is for us a “living word” from God. That is what we should be seeking, I believe.

  17. TE Hanna says:

    There are a few things taking place here in the ancient world:

    First of all, Aramaic/ Hebrew was a regional dialect, not the standard language used throughout the empire. The primary spoken language in the empire was latin; the primary written language was Greek.

    Secondly, the empire was diligent about Hellenizing the regions within the empire. They were keen on ingraining Greek culture and language into the territories they controlled. This is why they commissioned the Septuagint(LXX) – as a means of seeding hellenistic culture/language into the population. By the first century ad, the primary source which Jews would cite was the LXX, and all our NT citations of the Hebrew scriptures was from this Greek translation. It would make sense that the NT was similarly written in the same language.

    Third, literacy was not the same in the ancient world as it is today. Most of your scribes would be trained for this purpose and, as Greek was the standard language throughout the empire for business, academia, and general communication, they would be trained in this language, and would likely write in this language as well. Having said that, there were two priary forms of Greek: Classical (Athenian) Greek and Koine Greek. The former would be used for formal writing in business and academia, the latter for less formal, more conversational communication. It is worth noting that the entirety of the NT is written in Koine.

    Fourth, intended audience is important to make note of as well. Obviously, the Epistles were written to a largely Gentile audience, necessitating the Greek. The gospels were written near the end of the first century, as the witnesses to Jesus life and ministry were drawing closer to their death, and wished to record what they bore witness to. Thus we have Matthew and Mark, traditionally written by Jesus disciples of the same name. Luke was written via interviewing witnesses, according to the text. John was later, likely written by John’s disciples and ascribed his name. The church had already spread beyond Jews at this point, and these gospels were intended as cyclicals. Thus, they would need to be written in Greek as well.

    So, in summary: Greek was the standard for written language; the culture was immersed in it, the scribes trained in it, and the intended audience readers of it. Greek would be the expected language, not the anomaly.

    • arkenaten says:

      And Jesus, being the central figure of this narrative construct, would have been well aware of his responsibilities to his future audience and equally as important, his publisher, thus he rabbitted on in Greek all the live loing day, tra la la.
      They may have initially struggled with the Koine phrase for “Walking on Water” but obviously there was a damn good editor on hand for just such literary anomolies.
      As Jesus would have said… Λοιπόν, αυτό είναι ότι, στη συνέχεια, σχετικά με το πώς θα την παμπ?

  18. arkenaten says:

    I have revisited this page and read through it once more.The main question, ‘Why no Aramaic or Hebrew manuscripts was not properly addressed by Unklee throughout this discourse., being rather adroitly sidestepped at every turn, the classic theological two-step coupled with obfuscation being one of the believers stock in trade. tools
    It is perfectly reasonable to expect that SOMEONE recorded at least some of his actions in one of the native languages. Ëven if it was a scribble on the side of a wall. Didn;t any of his disciples make mention of anything? Tell their mates? Didnt Mary Magdalene ‘say anything about the empty tomb to anyone? Didnt women gossip in those days?’What about his mum and his brother, James?
    We are talking about the Son of God, yes? The same one who walked on water, turned water into booze, fed thousands, cured blind people, lepers, sorted out the weather, was a really hot fisherman,raised at least a couple of people from the dead and made a bloody nuisance of himself in the temple. So whether half the population was completely illiterate ,blind deaf, mentally retarded or Manchester United supporters, SOMEONE would have recorded SOMETHING.
    We have cave paintings of naked people running across savannahs throwing spears at wild animals for the gods sake.
    There are ample Hebrew writings from this period and Jesus was part and parcel of this ‘scenery’.
    So, as to the deafening silence…..
    The obvious answer to the question: Why äre no there Hebrew or Aramaic manuscripts with info about Jesus?
    Answer: Jesus who?

  19. EdB says:

    … and I suspect that were a fragment of the Sermon on the Mount discovered containing a portion of the first two beatitudes in Aramaic, the argument will turn to something like, “But no! The dialect recorded is clearly Sinaitic, and not Capernaitic, the region in which the Synoptics report the event took place. This just makes everything even more questionable!”
    The faith of unbelief can be as hard to shake as the faith of belief.

    • M. Rodriguez says:

      don’t assume or suspect, do the research yourself.

      If your faith is so important to you why not research the thing. The earlist versions of an aramaic NT manuscript come some nearly 500 years after Jesus died and the earliest greek manuscripts come some 30-45 years after Jesus died. And on top of that the early aramaic manuscripts are not even true aramic. Its syriac which is a dialect of aramaic. So no there is sermon on the mount aramaic fragment. No beatitudes, no early manuscripts of a the words of Jesus in his own language until well over 400 years after he died.

      So my question then, who believes out of Blind faith? and who believes out of research and evidence?

  20. unklee says:

    “The earlist versions of an aramaic NT manuscript come some nearly 500 years after Jesus died and the earliest greek manuscripts come some 30-45 years after Jesus died.”

    I realise this is a different point, but did you know that veteran NT historian Maurice Casey, who is an Aramaic expert, says quite definitely that Mark’s gospel has many passages that show clear signs of having been translated out of a written Aramaic document? i.e. parts of Mark were written in Aramaic within a decade (he says) or two (perhaps) of Jesus’ life.

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