So, it turns out I’ve chosen the WORST SUBJECT EVER if I was hoping this class would reassure me that my brain is still active and able. I started to get hopeful after the (very interesting) first lesson, until I checked the resources for the assignment and realised some were completely in Greek. I emailed poor Iona in the office again and asked (for the third time) if perhaps I’d misunderstood her before (twice), and I really did need to be able to read Greek, and she emailed back and said (very kindly) that knowing the alphabet would be helpful, but I absolutely did not need to know Greek and I’d be fine, and I’d love it, and the lecturer’s just an amazing scholar and it was all going to be great, etc., etc., etc.
So I thought “Phew!“ and I went to the college library and borrowed the required book on textual criticism for week two, and the lesson said to read pages 1-21 of the book and then answer some questions, so I read the pages and answered the questions, and then it told me to read pages 22-55 and answer some more questions, and so I did that, and then, when it asked me to read 20-or-so more pages, I thought Let me just scroll down and see how many more times this cycle will be repeated, and it turned out the answer was MANY MORE TIMES. By the end of the lesson, I’d read the entire. flipping. BOOK.
The subject is fascinating, and I’ve learned a lot already, but there’s something about the way the manuscripts are named (P45, E, and Q are a few examples) that feels like reading a different language and makes my brain scream, “I’M PUTTING THIS INTO THE ‘Things that I will never understand no matter how hard I try’” box (while another part of my brain screams, “WE CAN’T PUT IT IN A DIFFERENT BOX! WE DON’T HAVE A CHOICE! WE HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THIS STUFF!”). It gets very noisy and stressful in there. And then, on top of the stupid naming system, there’s the fact that the texts I have to analyse literally are in a different language, and even though I have the translations and don’t need to understand anything but what I’ve been given in English, staring at a page full of nothing but Greek and impossible manuscript names is DOING MY HEAD IN.
Plus, the assessments for this class include a minor essay, a major essay, a book review, and weekly assignments, which is approximately SEVENTEEN TIMES more than I was expecting based on the other subjects I’ve done by distance. PLUS, now I’m panicked every time I open up a new lesson that I’ll be expected to read a WHOLE BOOK. So I’m dropping it. I decided today.
You know one thing that made me stop and think for a bit while I was reading that book, though (Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism by J. Harold Greenlee)? This quote from page 68 (he’s talking about instances where scribes intentionally changed the text of parts of the Bible as they copied it):
Intentional doctrinal changes which have received any appreciable [manuscript] support have almost invariably been changes in the direction of orthodoxy or stronger doctrinal emphasis. Movement toward a doctrinally weaker text is more likely to be an unintentional change.*
I find it crazily dazzling that these days those people who favour orthodoxy and stronger doctrinal emphasis are the ones who seem to believe the Bible came about in a simple, “[God] spoke it, [people] wrote it, and now we can read it” way, when back in the day, they were the very people making little changes to what the author had originally written!(!!!!) I wonder, if I could go back in time, knowing what the Bible is today and the types of passages that stir up arguments, would I change the text to make it clearer? Hmmm.
I might ponder that some more as I LOOK FOR ANOTHER CLASS.
* In case you’re interested, that quote goes on to give examples: “Variants which seem intended to strengthen a doctrinal statement or introduce an accepted doctrine include the Trinitarian passage of 1 John 5:7-8, which has no non-suspect support in the Greek manuscripts; the addition of “and fasting” to “prayer” in Mark 9:29; the additions at the end of Rom. 8:1 and 1 Cor. 6:20; and the passage concerning the resurrection in 1 Cor. 15:51.”