Thursday, July 14, 2011

J. P. Holding vs. Richard Carrier on NT reliability.


The following are my notes from having watched the video of Richard Carrier and J. P. Holding's debate over the reliability of the New Testament documents. "Do we have what they had?" Most of the temporal links to the vids are approximate. I tried to be precise, but some of them are likely slightly off. Also, these notes were typed out quickly. I tried to reconstruct them into complete sentences and add context, but probably wasn't completely successful at that. I have some comments and questions of mine mixed in. These are just the highlights of what I thought was most important and/or interesting. It's not comprehensive.

Holding starts at 5:30

Holding concedes large amount of conjecture.

Part 2 (link)

2:32 Holding brings up the "we don't know" option, but doesn't endorse it.

He talks about what opponents say is justified extrapolation in first 150 years of Christianity.

3:35 Holding introduces a "somewhat more radical" position and reads from a Carrier chapter in The Christian Delusion.

4:55 Holding latches onto the "issue of deceit" as I predicted he would in an email to Carrier. I mentioned his unnecessary rhetoric (Later I noticed that Nick Covington over on AIGBusted pointed out the issue along these lines.) would make it easy for Holding to drag the entire debate down. That didn't quite happen since Carrier didn't go there, but the theme does resurface as though Holding would have liked him to. Kudos to Carrier.

5:24 Holding mentions "forgery ring" (later says that Bart Ehrman didn't used to think there was a forgery ring, but has changed his mind for his latest book. I wonder what that is about.)

Holding brings up three points on the forgery ring idea:

1 Pervasive, multiple participants?

2 Malicious? Trying to fool audiences with changes?

3 Were the changes meaningful?

Holding mentions that Ehrman was once asked about the state of core doctrines as far as textual evidence is concerned and apparently agrees with Bruce Metzger about "nuts and bolts."

7:40 Holding, as expected, places burden on critics to show otherwise that we don't have substance and much of the particulars.

Carrier starts at 8:05

Carrier agrees with pretty much everything Holding said in gist. Says he wants to present the "other side of the coin." More to the story apparently.

Problem 1: We have a hypothetical reconstruction of fallible human opinions who admittedly disagree.

Problem 2:


There must be "1 in 100" verses changed "behind the curtain" at minimum.

1 Most changes happen early, and it's easier for them to go uncorrected.

2 Corrective measures of early on are substantially inferior to modern reconstructions.

3 Rate of error at maximum at beginning.

Carrier points out there are deletions, harmonizations (did the gospels originally disagree *more* with each other than they already do?), and at 13:12 interpolations (huge in comparison to other books, and later says "almost unprecedented").

See 13:26 for list of issues.

Part 3 (link)

Carrier points out that even spelling mistakes can count.

See 4:11 for list issues.

5:07 Carrier says we can't trust the NT as an inerrant guide or source.

5:20 Goes on tangent about how we treat other "hosed" ancient documents.

6:14 Given what we have from Tacitus, if it recorded instructions for building a rocket, Carrier says he would not get on that rocket to the moon.

Guess we can't ride the Bible to heaven then, eh?

Holding's response starts at 6:51

7:00 Holding gives his "quoting Corinthian opponents" interpretation. See Carrier's post on that, "Pauline Interpolations."

My question: Would Holding identify any non-manuscript based errors behind the "curtain" of our ignorance into the first 150 years or would he suspiciously explain away each and every instance other scholars propose?

7:40 Holding asks, "Were the changes pervasive?" again.

He notes the statistical trends, and asserts what isn't known can't be assumed. Oh really? Not even a "probably?" We don't "really" know that there were any original copies at all. Why assume?

It seems that Holding wants to appeal to how we'd treat any other manuscript evidence when it suits him, but when it comes to that naturalistic argument coming back on him (inferring more errors into the unknown period), he puts on the brakes. Exit scholarly standards, enter Christian fideism.

Part 4 (link)

There doesn't have to be malicious intent, but there can be just as easily the credulous adding of some "oral tradition" or what amounts to urban legends they like, or "something they heard" in other words. "That sounds good. Stick it in!" (Carrier basically points this out later)

Given Carrier's "radical" rhetoric, Holding spends a lot of time trying to argue Carrier back to Bart Ehrman's more moderate position (without rebutting it?).

2:55 Is Holding arguing for "substance inerrancy"? He says that the gospels weren't treated as inerrant (literal word for word interpretation) till end of second century (which just so happens to be when our manuscript evidence picks up).

3:29 Holding says sometimes spelling is a big deal and other times not. But how do we know when that is? (Carrier makes this point later)

3:45 Holding doesn't get into details and claims that all of Carrier's examples are not significant to him. Um...I think I can recall a number of important debates that bring up issues that turn on word use. Way to engage the debate!

Carrier starts his rebuttal at 5:45

6:30 Because we can't agree and scholars can debate on what the text did or didn't say puts the layperson at the mercy of their fallibility.

Carrier notes that given this info, arguments can't turn on word use.

He says "peace on earth, good will towards men" matters thematically in understanding Luke's perspective on theology.

Carrier notes that insertions are unsourced.

Carrier mentions morality issues that hinge on textual evidence and uses OT example of word use in reference to the morality of abortion. I think I know the one he may be talking about because there is a very awkward reading regarding those two men fighting and a pregnant woman getting hurt and miscarrying. I can never tell how exactly the text is valuing or devaluing the baby/fetus.

10:00 Carrier brought his Greek/English bible to show endless variant readings that even the best normal bibles will not point out.

Carrier tells us to consider these issues when reading the Bible and making your arguments.

Q and A (link)

1:40 Mayor asks Carrier: Something like, "Please comment on the state of archeology in relation to the OT and NT since it seems really good from my perspective."

Carrier recommends "The Bible Unearthed" and "Jesus, Interrupted" to get a good idea of mainstream thought. He also recommends reading their critics, bless his heart.

3:17 Holding responds, says he knows nothing of archaeology and that he actually does have responses to both books.

3:47 Mayor asks Carrier: If all cultures followed 10 commandments would the world be a better or worse place?

Carrier says that if the choice is between having nothing at all, it'd be better, but there are better options. He says that 4 of the commandments are religious commandments and basically worthless. He points to an alternative set in an online article of his: "The Real 10 Commandments"

5:10 Mayor notes that his last question, "Do you think you could come up with 10 better commandments?" has already been answered.

5:15 Holding points out that the 4 religious commandments are valid if god is real.

David Fitzgerald at 5:35!

Says something like, "How many of the over 5,000 Greek manuscripts are from the first and second century?"

Holding admits, "just a handful," but that he, "doesn't consider that a problem."

I'm confused. I thought we didn't have any substantive manuscripts before 200 A.D.?

6:15 Holding reiterates his "comparative approach" that should be considered "with no other factors involved." You either "accept that you can construct the NT better or you can't reconstruct anything." I'm not sure the "no other factors" thing holds since we wouldn't expect all documents to be treated equally by their transmitters.

6:39 Fitzgerald asks follow up: We can confirm there were deliberate changes AND the NT itself warns us about forgeries.

Holding says you need a positive reason for why the NT can't be trusted.

7:16 Fitzgerald's second follow up: A NT document warns of forgery in a book that most scholars thinks is a forgery so how is it that you can say we don't have that evidence?

Holding: I don't think 2 Thessalonians is a forgery.

7:38 Fitzgerald: Either way we have evidence of high risk of forgery.

Holding: Risk is not enough to be decisive.

Fitzgerald leaves it at that.

But that is probability as opposed to having no evidence or even 50/50 for an author to have to specifically come out against it in the hay day of the NT.

7:55 Carrier says forgery is off topic. Most of 20,000 manuscripts by far are copies of other manuscripts we already have, and aren't useful information (other than for comparative stats), root manuscripts only number in perhaps the hundreds. He goes off on how Tacitus and Odyssey are hosed.

10:30 Long winded question on two extremes on oral transmission before texts are even formulated to be copied by scribes: Telephone game vs. controlled official traditions to be passed down and finally written since the apostles are dying off.

13:13 Carrier: The truth is in between, but whole other debate.

13:50 Holding says he did research on oral tradition and that some social models that fit telephone game. He claims the NT fits a didactic model. He said the approach was "not concerned with precision" and that this is "only a concern to the people who are handling snakes
out there, but they're just going to have to live with that." nice to see Christian apologists being so amoral when it comes to a god communicating effectively to the millions of believers throughout the ages who didn't have access to Google. Oh the privilege and prejudice so carelessly tossed about. "Well *we* know better! lulz!"