How Long from Original New Testament Books to Oldest Copies?

Arguments for the reliability of the New Testament are built as a chain of claims—the reliability of oral history, the short duration between events and documentation, the large number of Greek copies, and so on. We’ll look at one of these links, the time from original authorship to our best copies, to see how well it stands up.

Bible reliability cross examined blog new testament time gap from original to best copy

Source of the data

Making a spreadsheet of the time gap for every chapter in every book in the Bible was a tedious task, though not a difficult one. The oldest manuscript with a complete New Testament is the Codex Sinaiticus, dated to 350 CE. For 57 of the New Testament’s 260 chapters (22 percent) this was the oldest source, but papyrus copies are older for the remainder. These papyri range in breadth from P46, which contains more than eight epistles (letters), to P52, which has just a few verses of John 18.

That gave an oldest date for each chapter, and this list has the date of authorship for each book (from the 50s for Paul’s authentic epistles to 90 and beyond for John, Revelation, and some of the epistles). Subtract the years to get the time gap from authorship to oldest copy for each chapter.

Time gaps for gospel chapters

The chart above shows the gospel chapters in order for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The red bars indicate the first chapter in each book. The height of each bar is the time gap from the original to our best copy for that chapter.

Matthew and John each have 18 papyrus sources, Luke has 6, and Mark only 2. Though Mark is thought to be the oldest gospel, scholars have speculated that once churches had Matthew and Luke (basically second editions of Mark), Mark lost its value and wasn’t copied as much by the early church.

The time gaps for the chapters in John look pretty good compared to the others because it was the last gospel to be written and because papyrus P66, dated to 200 CE, is a complete copy. P52 (125 CE) has bits of John 18, and P90 (150 CE) has bits of John 19.

Luke also does well because of two papyri dated to 200 CE that cover most of the book. Nevertheless, 22 of these 89 gospel chapters have no papyrus copies that improve on the Codex Sinaiticus (350 CE). This problem is particularly obvious in Matthew, where it must rely on Sinaiticus for 43 percent of its oldest chapters. The average chapter time gap for Matthew is 200 years, making it particularly unreliable. Mark is even worse, at 230 years.

The height of each bar is the length of the dark period during which no one knows for sure what happened to the copies. We have enough data to repair some errors, but who knows how many errors remain and how bad they are? How much confidence can we have in a copy written centuries later than the original?



See also: The Bible’s Dark Ages


You wouldn’t believe a supernatural story if it was claimed to have happened yesterday, but we’re to believe supernatural stories about Jesus passed on as oral history for decades before being written down when we don’t even have the originals but only copies from centuries later?



See also: A Simple Thought Experiment Defeats Claim that Bible Is Accurate


Bible reliability cross examined blog new testament time gap from original to best copy

Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Ephesians

Acts and Romans both have a decent number of papyrus sources (8 and 7, respectively), but continuing down the list, it’s 4 sources, then 1, 1, and 3. Fortunately for these epistles, they are mostly in P46 from 200 CE.

Ephesians (the last six chapters on the right) looks unusually good, but that’s only because it’s a pseudo-Pauline epistle, one that falsely claims to be written by Paul but was actually written about 30 years later than Paul’s actual epistles.

Bible reliability cross examined blog new testament time gap from original to best copy

All the rest: Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1–3 John, Jude, and Revelation

The one-chapter books stand out here.

Hebrews (thirteen chapters, each 115 years tall, near the center) has 8 papyrus sources, including the excellent P46. Revelation has five sources, mostly poor. The remainder have three or fewer sources, and four books have zero sources and must be completely backstopped by Codex Sinaiticus.

Every link in the chain that builds to the conclusion, “And that’s why the New Testament is historically trustworthy!” must be reliable. When the average time gap from original to oldest copy is 171 years, this link in the chain clearly isn’t.

If the Bible and my brain are both the work of the same infinite god,
whose fault is it that the book and my brain do not agree?

— Robert G. Ingersoll

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  • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

    Has this been done for the old testament as well? I’d be interested to see the comparison on that.

    • T-Paine

      I believe the Qumran scrolls (3-2nd Century B.C.E.) are the earliest known copies of the Old Testament books.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I’ve not seen that, but it would be interesting. I suppose it’s possible that for a late book like Daniel (written 167 BCE or thereabouts), the Qumran copies could give us a time gap better than with the NT books, but that would be the exception.

  • Uzza

    This is interesting, but given the well proven fact that even direct eyewitness testimony is unreliable, it’s an upper floor in a house of cards, above the ‘oral history’ level. So big deal–like with most apologytics.

    • T-Paine

      Worse considering the fact that they are not eyewitness testimonies and the writers have never stated or implied that they were contemporaries to times they are writing about.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    How much confidence can we have in a copy that is centuries older than the original?

    Wait, what?

    • Giauz Ragnarock

      It seems copy and original (that we don’t have, and how would we know a copy from an original that the author kept adding to in the margins and scribbling out errors/”errors”?) need switched to make the sentence work.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Is something confusing? It reads OK to me.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        How can you have a copy that is older than the original? That raises doubt as to whether “the original” is the original.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Ah, of course. I’d confused “later” and “older” in my mind. Change made.

  • T-Paine

    I’m skeptical of the dates of the New Testament fragments and codices…Considering the fact that the Codex Sinaiticus was not carbon dated, but dated only epigraphically. I don’t think any of the New Testament fragments, leaves, and manuscripts have been carbon dated, only epigraphically. The Dead Sea scrolls are the exception.

    • Matt Cavanaugh

      All the MSS are dated via paleography, which is very vulnerable to bias.

      • epeeist

        All the MSS are dated via paleography

        Complete aside, my background is physics; we make an hypothesis, we make a test; if the result comes out as predicted by the hypothesis we regard it as veridical.

        So how does this work for such things as manuscripts, how do you know your hypothesis about their dates is veridical?

        • Matt Cavanaugh

          Only by linking a style of hand to something you can more precisely date (an internal reference, a coin found with the MSS). Paleography is inherently fuzzy, which is fine, except the approximate dates arrived at are usually accepted as precise and definitive.

        • epeeist

          So not unlike science, consonance between hypotheses and consilience between different types of observation over time leading to a probabilistic estimate of the verisimilitude of the hypothesis.

          A couple of things to add, firstly a question; would Bayesian methods help in this?

          Secondly I read the UK Guardian and came across this article, a technique which might possibly improve dating.

        • Matt Cavanaugh

          1) In theory, consilience would help firm up dates. In practice, scholars come in with a priori conclusions, find what they want in the MSS, and leave it at that;

          2) Bayes is worthless for this;

          3) I’m quite sure what that Guardian article is about, and I’m sure the author isn’t sure, either. (It is the Guardian, after all.) But I can’t think of how dendrochronology could assist in dating MSS.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Good point. Yes, there are big assumptions going into this. Nevertheless, it paints a gloomy picture for the Christian scholars.

    • Pofarmer

      Not given the dates of the fragments, and I don’t know where in the hell I would find the links, but modern apologists are trying to move the dating of the Gospels to way before they were originally dated. If you look at textual evidence, when the Gospels are first mentioned by the Church fathers by name, when they were first quoted, etc, etc, it certainly looks much more likely that the Gosple of Mark was written around 125CE at the earliest, or the time of the Bar Kochba revolt, with the other Gospels being somewhat later. Man, I wish I knew exactly where I read that. But, the interesting thing, is that this agrees with scholarship until the early 20th century, just like most scholarship before the early 20th century said that the TF was a complete forgery. Then the apologists from the bible colleges got hold of it and tried to find novel ways to push the dating on the Gospels forward and novel interpretations of the TF that might make it authentic.

      • buttle

        “it certainly looks much more likely that the Gosple of Mark was written around 125CE at the earliest, or the time of the Bar Kochba revolt”

        This is a pet peeve of mines, but that’s just not possible, and i want to disabuse you from that idea. Please read the apology of Aristides of Athens to Hadrian: this document is dated 125 at the earliest and 132 at the latest, because Hadrian visited Athens in those 2 years. Unlike many supposed allusions to the gospels like in Ignatius it clearly describes a written gospel that sounds a lot like Matthew, with a virgin birth, the Jews piercing Jesus, the twelve apostles, and so on. And it describes it as a known document that should be read by others, so it was already well known at least among christians and was circulating. Since Mark (and the “second source”) surely came before this written gospel with a virgin birth it means that it can’t have been written in 125CE or later, it must have been written some years or decades before that time, maybe by 100 or 110CE. Similar arguments can be made for what Papias wrote: 125CE or later is way too late for the earliest gospel.

        You are probably hearing echoes of the theory of F.C.Baur, according to whom Matthew (at the time believed to be the oldest gospel) contains references to the Bar Kokeba revolt. This is old scholarship, it is a fascinating idea, and it it true that modern scholarship on the dating of the gospels is bad, and that apologists are even worse in their backdating attempts, but it doesn’t mean that Baur was right. All the references to jewish rebels are references to the first jewish war, not Bar Kokeba.

        Unrelated to that: you know what? The more i read Aristides the more it sounds like the Testimonium Flavianum, with the christians portrayed as a “race”, the ending with the christians still going strong to the present day, the fact that christians take their name from christ, the “die and resurrect in 3 days” thing, the apostles keeping up the good work… It is also about the same length. This is all pretty generic stuff, but it is (with Papias) the earliest description of a written gospel we have, and Eusebius was reading it too… I wonder how they compare in greek.

        • Greg G.

          Here is the link to the Apology of Aristides. I haven’t read it yet but I will.

          Papias knew of a gospel from Mark and one from Matthew but the one from Matthew was not in Greek so it cannot be the one we have received. Our Matthew must have appeared and got the name because Papias said there was one and so they had to have one with that name. The fact that Matthew changed “Levi the tax collector” to “Matthew the tax collector” was a clue for them. There are reasons for John and Luke having those names so there had to be a Mark.

          I think Matthew used Jewish Antiquities as a source for the nativity narrative so Matthew would be no earlier than the end of the first century. I think Luke used Matthew and Josephus so it would be later. I think Mark may have used Jewish Wars but I don’t see anything to make me think Mark used Jewish Antiquities. I don’t see anything that convinces me that any of the gospels had to be post-“bar Kochba”.

        • T-Paine

          Papias knew of a gospel from Mark and one from Matthew but the one from
          Matthew was not in Greek so it cannot be the one we have received.

          Yes. But what do we know about Papias or his work?

        • Greg G.

          From what I read, it seems he would have been good for a free meal if you told him you knew Jesus or the disciples and had a yarn to tell.

          It seems that some tradition was based on his quote.

        • T-Paine

          Outside of Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies” and Eusebius quoting Irenaeus quoting Papias, there’s absolutely no trace of his writings anywhere in the world – no manuscripts, no books, no fragments – nothing. Isn’t it strange to us that a 5 book treatise allegedly written in the 2nd century had wide enough circulation to be quoted from a “2nd century bishop from Lyons (southern France)” and yet no trace of his work survives? Eusebius comments on Papias of being a man “of little intelligence judging by his books”. A church historian commenting on the work of a writer that no one – not even the Vatican Library – has any copy of…

        • Greg G.

          Isn’t it strange to us that a 5 book treatise allegedly written in the 2nd century had wide enough circulation to be quoted from a “2nd century bishop from Lyons (southern France)” and yet no trace of his work survives?

          Not particularly. Justus of Tiberias, who was a contemporary of Josephus, was apparently read and commented on by Photius as late as the ninth century but we don’t have his writing. We don’t have any copies of Josephus that are older than the tenth century. We have Contra Celcius but not Celcius’ writings.

          Most of what was written in the first or second centuries has been lost. We are lucky to have what we have.

          not even the Vatican Library

          How do we know what the Vatican really has?

        • Pofarmer

          “How do we know what the Vatican really has?”

          We really don’t. And a great shame, up until very recently and possibly still, is that the Vatican has been in control of things like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

        • Myna A.

          The Scaffali in Ferro at the Vatican contains eight miles of shelving over two floors. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-2286483/As-world-waits-new-Pope-explore-Vaticans-Secret-Archives.html ) And that’s just a grain of sand in the miles (50?) of material stored in that massive gargoyle of a place. Can you even imagine?

        • Greg G.

          Will they ever let Google scan them into a searchable database?

        • Myna A.

          They’d rather see the place burn.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          But surely the Vatican is busily making copies and indexing all these materials to make them available to the entire world. I’m sure they’ll be available any day now. What do they have to hide?

        • Myna A.

          My opinion is that it is a combination of a sense of entitlement, opulent greed and a demonstration of power. I can’t even imagine a massive collection like that. Of course there is the very real issue of preservation, the meticulous handling and restoration of ancient documents, but the Vatican is extremely restrictive on who has access and for how long.

          I don’t think there is some great conspiracy, but do think they want to assess very carefully what goes out and how it is interpreted. It’s all about controlling the story with the Vatican, and I think it protects both the story and itself through the clever use of mystery.

        • T-Paine

          We don’t have any copies of Josephus that are older than the tenth century.

          Yes, but we do have copies of his writings. They’re extent. One reason I assume is that they were useful for the Catholic church and used as historical references for the gospel writers.

          We have Contra Celcius but not Celcius’ writings.

          Yes, but for another reason than we why don’t have Papias’ book. It wasn’t edifying to the Catholic church. That’s one reason why we have a dearth of writings antithetical to the Catholic church. We knew next to nothing about the ancient Gnostics until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library. And we couldn’t have been able to figure out how accurate Irenaeus’ polemics against gnostics were until we found the hidden gnostic books.

          Most of what was written in the first or second centuries has been lost. We are lucky to have what we have.

          That we do.

          How do we know what the Vatican really has?

          Good question. We know what they publish. And they published the church-edifying writings of Eusebius, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, others. And yet no Papias? A christian author who wrote a 5 book volume called Exposition on the Sayings of the Lord and this work’s circulation was extensive enough and edifying enough to quote from by a church bishop and a church historian and yet no trace survives anywhere. I can think of 3 reasons why: 1. It is by sheer misfortune that anyone including the Catholic church to fail to preserve his writings or fail to copy them. 2. Papias’ work was actively suppressed (highly unlikely). 3. Papias and his work never existed and was the fabrication of Irenaeus.

        • Greg G.

          Yes, but we do have copies of his writings. They’re extent. One reason I assume is that they were useful for the Catholic church and used as historical references for the gospel writers.

          We probably wouldn’t have those copies if Eusebius hadn’t stuck the TF in it.

          Yes, but for another reason than we why don’t have Papias’ book. It wasn’t edifying to the Catholic church. That’s one reason why we have a dearth of writings antithetical to the Catholic church. We knew next to nothing about the ancient Gnostics until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library. And we couldn’t have been able to figure out how accurate Irenaeus’ polemics against gnostics were until we found the hidden gnostic books.

          But we have other writings that weren’t edifying either. Some things may have been luckier than others.

          I can think of 3 reasons why: 1. It is by sheer misfortune that anyone including the Catholic church to fail to preserve his writings or fail to copy them. 2. Papias’ work was actively suppressed (highly unlikely). 3. Papias and his work never existed and was the fabrication of Irenaeus.

          I wouldn’t discount #3. The canonized New Testament is composed of the books Irenaeus alluded to with a few exceptions, 2 Peter being the only exception with more than one chapter. Irenaeus is said to know Polycarp. Polycarp is said to have known Apostle John, but his letter to the Philippians seems to quote or allude to every book in the New Testament but provides no extrabiblical knowledge about John or Jesus. I suspect that letter was written forged by Irenaeus.

          Wasn’t the theory back then that Matthew was written in Aramaic, translated to Greek, Mark abbreviated it, and Luke used Mark and maybe Matthew?

        • T-Paine

          We probably wouldn’t have those copies if Eusebius hadn’t stuck the TF in it.

          It could be true. It’s a strong probability.

          But we have other writings that weren’t edifying either. Some things may have been luckier than others.

          Some people had private libraries. 😉

          Wasn’t the theory back then that Matthew was written in Aramaic,
          translated to Greek, Mark abbreviated it, and Luke used Mark and maybe
          Matthew?

          Yes it was. And Luke didn’t so much as used Mark but his/her work is a revised and expanded version of Mark.

        • TheNuszAbides

          *Celsus

        • Greg G.

          Thanks. I’d like to blame Spellchecker but I have erred to a greater degree on my own before.

        • buttle

          No, Eusebius had the book himself, he wasn’t only quoting Irenaeus on Papias, in fact he corrects Irenaeus in at least a place… And Papias was read by others too: Apollinaris of Laodicea (or somebody else who reported the story of the death of Judas) and possibly Agapius of Ierapolis. Maybe the work didn’t survive also because it was a piece of crap even by apologist’s standards.

          If you want a real crazy and disappearing manuscript try with Hegesippus, the supposed first church historian…

        • T-Paine

          No, Eusebius had the book himself

          Papias’, you mean? What happened to it?

          he wasn’t only quoting Irenaeus on Papias, in fact he corrects Irenaeus in at least a place…

          About what?

          And Papias was read by others too: Apollinaris of Laodicea (or somebody
          else who reported the story of the death of Judas) and possibly Agapius
          of Ierapolis.

          Possibly. But since there aren’t a scrap of any works of Papias’, there’s no way to know for sure. Those later two writers could have been going on Irenaeus and Eusebius.

          Maybe the work didn’t survive also because it was a piece of crap even by apologist’s standards.

          Since there’s no work of Papias for us to read. We may never know that.

        • buttle

          “About what?”

          The authorship of the gospel of John. Why don’t you go read the damn thing before coming up with conspiracies?

          This is Eusebius:
          “Now testimony is borne to these things in writing by Papias, an ancient man, who was a hearer of John, and a friend of Polycarp, in the fourth of his books; for five books were composed by him.” Thus wrote Irenaeus. Moreover, Papias himself, in the introduction to his books, makes it manifest that he was not himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles

          And then he goes on to actually QUOTE from the first book of Papias…. But that would be too easy for you, right? So you imagine that Iraeneus was actually a third century forger who invented a second century forgery called “Papias”, then Eusebius (i assume you agree that at least Eusebius was real, but i’m ready to be amazed…) read the forger Iraeneus, understood it to be a forgery, he didn’t tell us it was a forgery but he invented more material in the name of Papias, actually CONTRADICTING the original forger… Then Apollinaris of Laodicea had the same idea, so he invented an account of the death of Judas completely different from the ones in the NT, then Dionysius the Areopagite manages to quote from Papias 3 more words, just because he can. This is crazy talk in crazy land. In none of the steps down this crazy descent to madness was any sense ever made.

          “Those later two writers could have been going on Irenaeus and Eusebius.”

          We HAVE Irenaeus and Eusebius, and they don’t tell about the fate of Judas. If another writer comes up and tells that in the fourth book of Papias there is a story of how Judas died, why the hell are you pretending that he didn’t? That’s motivated reasoning.
          http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2009/07/28/papias-on-judas-iscariot-as-reported-by-apollinaris-of-laodicea/

          There were so many forgeries and misattributions in the second and third century, and Eusebius is so full of them, that i don’t why you are so determined to disprove a work that was evidently not a forgery because at least 3 different people were reading it, was not misattributed, was actually existing and in fact was an embarrassment to the official church history. You are your own worst enemy.

        • T-Paine

          “About what?”

          The authorship of the gospel of John. Why don’t you go read the damn thing before coming up with conspiracies?

          It’s not my responsibility to support your arguments for you.

          But that would be too easy for you, right?

          Irrelevant

          So you imagine that Iraeneus was actually a third century forger who
          invented a second century forgery called “Papias”, then Eusebius (i
          assume you agree that at least Eusebius was real, but i’m ready to be
          amazed…) read the forger Iraeneus, understood it to be a forgery, he
          didn’t tell us it was a forgery but he invented more material in the
          name of Papias, actually CONTRADICTING the original forger… Then
          Apollinaris of Laodicea had the same idea, so he invented an account of
          the death of Judas completely different from the ones in the NT, then
          Dionysius the Areopagite manages to quote from Papias 3 more words, just
          because he can. This is crazy talk in crazy land. In none of the steps
          down this crazy descent to madness was any sense ever made.

          You are reading too much into my comments and replying to things I’ve never said. Unlike you, I use the quote html tags to quote what you’ve actually said. I’m questioning the fact that people across the the centuries from the 2nd to the 10th century have and quote from Papias’ books for their works but none of them bother to preserve them at all?

          “Those later two writers [could] have been going on Irenaeus and Eusebius.”

          Keyword here is could

          We HAVE Irenaeus and Eusebius, and they don’t tell about the fate of
          Judas. If another writer comes up and tells that in the fourth book of
          Papias there is a story of how Judas died, why the hell are you
          pretending that he didn’t? That’s motivated reasoning.

          I’m not pretending anything here. Again, you’re reading way too much into my comments and replying to things I’ve never said.

          There were so many forgeries and misattributions in the second and third century…

          Yes, indeed there were.

          …and Eusebius is so full of them…

          That, too.

          …that i don’t why you are so determined to disprove a work that was
          evidently not a forgery because at least 3 different people were reading
          it, was not misattributed, was actually existing and in fact was an
          embarrassment to the official church history.

          You don’t know that. Nobody including you knows anything about Papias and his work beyond what was quoted by christian authors in the past. Whether it was an embarrassment to the official church history or not is unknown or whether the authors quoting him were accurate or not is unknown since we don’t actually have Papias’ works..

          You are your own worst enemy.

          Ad Hominum attack and irrelevant.

        • buttle

          “I don’t see anything to make me think Mark used Jewish Antiquities.”

          Where do you think he got that baptist guy?

        • Greg G.

          Where do you think he got that baptist guy?

          Much of the chapter 1 part comes from Malachi 3:1; Exodus 23:20; Isaiah 40:3-5; Leviticus 11:21; 2 Kings 1:8; Zechariah 13:4. He may have done a reversal of Berossus’ History of Babylon (3rd century BC) where “John (Ioannes in Greek)” may come from “Oannes”, a half-man, half-fish god who lived in the water at night and came to land to give civilization to humans.

          The chapter 6 story is based on Esther.
          Wife’s Enemy Favored By the King
          Esther 3:8-11
          Esther 4:14-16

          Provocative Dancing
          Esther 1:10-12, 15
          The Jews interpreted “wearing the crown” to mean “nothing but the crown”

          What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.
          Esther 5:3, 6; 7:2

          Haman gets advice to request the death of Mordecai. Herodias’ daughter gets advice to request the head of John the Baptist.
          Esther 5:9-14

          It also blends in 1 Kings 17-22 where Jezebel (becomes Herodias) wants to kill Elijah (becomes John the Baptist, again.)

          Mark 1:4 says the baptism is for “repentance of sins”. Why would Jesus need remission of sins? That seems to have been an embarrassment to the later gospels as Matthew has John ask Jesus if it was a good idea, GJohn doesn’t say that John performed the baptism, only that he saw the dove out of heaven. Neither does Luke say that John performed the baptism as the baptism is obscured by the description of John’s arrest in the middle of the baptism account.

          AJ 18.5.2 specifically says that John’s baptism was not for remission of sins. That makes me suspicious that at least that part is interpolated into Antiquities around the time the other gospels were being written and long before Origen got hold of it, but there are other parts that make me think the whole passage might have been forged.

          Where the Josephus account mentions “Macherus, the castle I before mentioned” would refer to the previous section, where Macherus is mentioned twice. An interpolator may have missed the second mention that says it was under the control of Aretas, not Herod, so the people who thought Herod’s army was defeated by Aretas because of God’s anger for the killing of John makes no sense if it was Aretas’ castle.

        • buttle

          “Why would Jesus need remission of sins?”

          That’s an allegory of christian baptism, not a christological dissertation nor an historical account of events.

          Does this mean that you accept the common explanation among scholars that Mark is relying an old oral tradition that Jesus really was baptized by John the Baptist? Yet 1 Clement doesn’t know about that tradition, nor does anybody else that i know before Mark came up with his allegorical tale. The only evidence of christian baptism coming from the baptist is Mark itself… I don’t care how much embarassed later gospels authors were with their nativity tales and attempts to historicize Mark.

          I agree with much of the material you are bringing on from the old testament. But that doesn’t by itself answer the question of “how” Mark knew of the Baptist, that is, where he first found him, and “why” he made him part of his tale: if the “how” is a known oral tradition, that is also the “why”, and the old testament stuff is just embellishment. But if the “how” is a Baptist completely unrelated to Jesus as found in Josephus, that old testament material and the peculiar way it is used in the whole gospel is actually the “why”.

        • buttle

          Oh, maybe now i got what you mean: do you by any chance think that Mark himself invented John the Baptist, and it later was entirely interpolated into Josephus from the gospels? No, it’s too much, there’s also the account of his death and it lacks the link to Jesus, why interpolating it into Antiquities without any link to Jesus? and it presupposes a very early two way exchange between Josephus and the gospels, i don’t think that’s even possible. Do you think the TF was interpolated at this time or only later? It would be extremely odd for a christian interpolation to add so much Baptist and no Jesus, there’s just no way.

          The only significant doubt i have in the account of Josephus is the “not for the remission of sins” part, which is odd indeed, but since it sounds like a preemptive rebuttal to christians or some other crazy cult it actually makes sense because Josephus almost certainly hated them with a passion. The rest is just idiosyncratic writing or improper translation.

        • buttle

          Sorry if i read too quickly the first part of your reply, you indeed argue for John being invented by Mark. But that’s too clever: it reminds me of Rober Price arguing for the boanerges being a term of sumerian origin, or Carrier arguing for Simon of Cyrene being an allegory for the city of Cyrene, with his philosophycal school and it being across the sea from Jerusalem or something like that, or Kirby arguing that Cyrene is a reference to the hyssop and the color red or something similar related to Barnabas. Those are all too clever and overcomplicated attempts to explain the obviously allegorical features of Mark, they are ultimately wrong because Mark is actually pretty straightforward, and would not go that far with an allegory: it must be sufficiently simple to explain and yet interesting to hear, directly to the point, it must keep up with the overall theme and purpose of the text: who cares about a half man half fish god?

          If you, like me, don’t buy the official explanation of the “oral tradition” you are MUCH better served by a real historical John the Baptist through Josephus. I think maybe you are a bit reluctant to move Mark so close to 100CE: you know that the “scholarly” 66-73 is wrong, but you don’t want to go much further than 80. I know i already proposed this, but have you considered if and how Mark is using not only Paul but also 1 Clement? How do you date 1 Clement and the first collection of the Paulines? That could possibly move you one step closer to the 93CE of Antiquities.

        • Greg G.

          I think Mark made up his stories by using mimesis and/or midrash using Greek literature such as the Odyssey and the Iliad and Old Testament passages. For example, Legion is based on the Cyclops combined with Isaiah 65:4 (who sit inside tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat swine’s flesh, with broth of abominable things in their vessels;) and Psalm 107:10 (Some sat in darkness and in gloom,) The swine from Isaiah allows him to bring in some allusion to Circe.

          The name of the Cyclops is “Polyphemus” which means “famous” or literally, “many speak or”, as in polygon and blasphemy. In the Greek, Mark 5:9 uses “lego Legio” back to back for “he said Legion is my name.” I would expect someone who learned to read Greek by studying Homer would pick up on the bilingual pun with a Latin term in it.

        • buttle

          Yes, mimesis/midrash or whatever you want to call it. They are cut out from older stuff, this isn’t even the most obvious example, but it works. I can see Isaiah 65 there too. I can see the small pun too, no big deal, there are bigger jokes. I’m not so sure about Homer, maybe as an innocent cultural lift here and there, but not so much as a deliberate reference, McDonald is a bit overselling his case. This by itself still doesn’t explain why.

        • Greg G.

          Why wouldn’t Mark use Homer? It was by far the most popular literature of the day. It’s themes have been used by many writers from The Aenead to O Brother, Where Art Thou.

          MacDonald states at the outset that he is adding some material that might be questionable to be thorough. I was surprised that he missed “lego Legio” as that leapt out at me when I looked up the Greek to see if the “for we are many” phrase had “poly”. (It had “polys”.)

          MacDonald notes that the order is sometimes reversed in Mark from the Homer. I wonder if that technique in mimesis might be analogous to chiasm that Mark is written in.

        • buttle

          If you are inventing a story you indeed often steal from the best storytellers you know. So it’s probable that here and there Mark was inspired by Homer or by other non christian myths and legends. I’m just not sure his purpose was to make this so obvious to his readers because using pagan mythology could not serve the same purpose as using the old testament. So the “homeric layer”, if it’s there (i think there are better cases for it than Mark 5), stays at a “lesser” level in the puzzle of Mark.

        • Greg G.

          I think midrash and mimesis were intended to show the texts they draw from. I do not think Mark wrote to convince his readers that Jesus lived in the first century. It would seem to be a what-if story, something like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. It’s like “what if Jesus was on earth recently?”

          Mark also seems to draw from some of Paul’s epistles, particularly Galatians. The three main sidekicks are Peter, James, and John, the same three identified in Galatians 2:9. Jesus would represent Paul who, like Odysseus, traveled around the Mediterranean, while Jesus travels around the “Sea” of Galilee.

          The abrupt ending seems strange if it was supposed to be a gospel. The chiastic structure suggests that there should be another line. The expectation is that it will have, “The tomb boy said, ‘Move away from there.’ Said, ‘Capernaum is where you oughta be’ so they loaded up their ass and they moved to Galilee.” Instead, it ends with a pregnant pause with the women being afraid to tell, and then it would dawn on the reader that that is why the early Christians weren’t in Galilee when Jerusalem was destroyed. For that scenario, I am assuming the Romans used propaganda about the destruction of Jerusalem to dissuade other dissidents from causing trouble elsewhere, so it would not be far from the reader’s minds. It is reasonable to think Mark was writing for Romans as he explains Aramaic terms but never Latin terms and even relates the value of a coin to its Roman equivalent.

        • Greg G.

          I think the way JtB’s reason for the baptism is opposed to what Mark describes seems like some monkey business. The fact that Josephus says that Macherus was controlled by Aretas at the time makes the whole defeat of Herod’s army non-sensical. If God was pissed because JtB was beheaded in a castle controlled by Aretas, why would God have Herod’s army defeated by Aretas? That makes me think that the interpolator didn’t read the previous section completely.

          Also, the JtB section is bracketed by the claim many believed that the destruction of Herod’s army was due to the beheading. But later on, Josephus says that Herod’s complete downfall was the result of him listening to a woman. That’s seems like a good joke if it wasn’t ruined in the JtB section.

          Mark does not seem to have been very popular among early Christians. Both Luke and John follow Mark closely through chapter 6 then jump to chapter 8. Luke 9:18 says Jesus is praying alone but the disciples are with him and he begins to question them. Luke then jumps 74 verses from Mark 6:46 to Mark 8:27 in mid-sentence and mid-verse. John 6 picks up at Mark 6:30, right after the death of John the Baptist, and follows the Feeding of the 5000, the Walking on Water, and the trip to Gennasaret. In John 6:30, the crowd at Gennasaret asks Jesus for a sign, the same question the Pharisees ask Jesus in Mark 8:11-12. John seems to have known something was missing and tries to replace it with the Bread of Life dialogue but Luke may have not suspected anything was missing. It’s like Mark seven was ripped out along with adjoining text. Perhaps they didn’t like where Jesus called the Samaritan woman a dog.

          I think the TF was entirely created by Eusebius in two stages. He seems to have rephrased part of the Emmaus Road narrative from Luke 24, then garnished it with embellishment. The Coincidences of the Emmaus Narrative of Luke and the Testimonium of Josephus by Gary J. Goldberg, Ph.D. establishes the connection to Luke 24 but his conclusion that they used a common source makes no sense since the Emmaus Road narrative is a summary of the story of Luke, which came from Mark, and Goldberg’s argument eliminates Mark as the source. The Testimonium Flavianum, Eusebius, and Consensus by Ken Olson shows that Eusebius was quite capable of using Josephus-like phrases.

        • buttle

          This seems to be a good part of your argument for the interpolation of John in Josephus, but this ignores the huge difficulties this creates, and anyway that’s most probably just a mistranslation from the greek. Josephus doesn’t say that Macherus was subject to Aretas, just the officer who met the daughter there.
          I’m persuaded by these arguments, but it’s difficult for me to double check them due to lack of access to sources and lack of greek knowledge:
          http://peterkirby.com/a-conjectural-corruption-of-josephus.html
          http://peterkirby.com/john-the-baptist-authentic.html

          I think i already linked that page to you in the past, but i don’t know if disqus allows to search in old comments. Maybe i didn’t, maybe you forgot it, maybe you just disagree.

          Even if the translation is correct i think an early christian interpolation with John but no Jesus is so improbable as to make a sloppy work by a collaborator of Josephus (he had several) or even a mistake by Josephus himself much more likely than that.

        • Greg G.

          I don’t think it was to support Jesus but to refute Mark that Jesus was baptized for remission of sin.

          I had not seen those links. Thanks. I stopped reading the second about 20% of the way down where it started talking about the TF because I want to go to bed soon. While I cannot say much about the translation issue, our oldest copies come from 900 years of copying by Christian scribes. However, I have a couple of possible answers to:

          Thus it is not only a difficulty involved here, objectively, in believing that Machaerus would have been held by Aretas, which thus leads many to conclude that Josephus is in error here.

          In Antiquities of the Jews 17.9.3, when Archelaus went to Rome, Sabinus, Caesar’s steward for Syrian affairs, seized the king’s palace in Jerusalem and began to dispose of the castles. When Varus heard this, according to Antiquities of the Jews 17.10.9, he sent reinforcements for his Syrian legion in Judea. Aretas, the king of Arabia Petrea, also sent troops “in order to purchase the favor of the Romans”. Sabinus fled from Jerusalem when Varus arrived. Varus would then have been in a position to dispose of Macherus to Aretas as the favor. The next time Josephus mentions Macherus, it is under control of Aretas.

        • buttle

          “I don’t think it was to support Jesus but to refute Mark that Jesus was baptized for remission of sin.”

          There’s a real possibility that a christian scribe wanted to make a tiny change to a text already containing John the Baptist, but for the sake of writing the “correct” history from his point of view more than to refute a gospel he didn’t like. I think it is a bit unlikely but definitely possible. That’s a very very long shot from interpolating the entire character but not Jesus: it would serve no purpose at all, no christian would comment on it for another century or more until Origen, Origen himself found it only by chance while searching in vain for far more important external evidence of the gospel narrative, this thing just doesn’t make sense as a significant christian interpolation.

        • Greg G.

          There’s a real possibility that a christian scribe wanted to make a tiny change to a text already containing John the Baptist, but for the sake of writing the “correct” history from his point of view more than to refute a gospel he didn’t like.

          I grant that is a good possibility. But almost all of Mark appears to be created from a combination of Greek literature, mostly Homer, and a combination of OT verses or just from a combination of OT verses. John the Baptist has a lot of OT verses associated with him and his story, as opposed to the treatment of Pilate, a known person mentioned by Philo and Josephus.

          That’s a very very long shot from interpolating the entire character but not Jesus:

          But not if there was a debate in the church about why Jesus would have been baptized for the remission of sins. They wouldn’t rely on Josephus for Jesus but some assurance that the baptism was not about sin would have filled their need.

          it would serve no purpose at all, no christian would comment on it for another century or more until Origen, Origen himself found it only by chance while searching in vain for far more important external evidence of the gospel narrative, this thing just doesn’t make sense as a significant christian interpolation.

          Is that right? I had read a list of church fathers who never mentioned the TF but it noted some who made references to Josephus. I never considered whether they mention the JtB passage or the “so-called Christ”. If neither was mentioned in Josephus until Origen, it would favor them being interpolations.

          A quick search yielded this but I don’t think this was what I am thinking of:
          http://www.truthbeknown.com/josephus.htm

        • buttle

          This doesn’t ring plausible to me: a creative writer can take the Baptist or Pilate from a history book and add or subtract to them at will according to his needs. A second century christian who believes in the historicity of Matthew, Luke or John is not going to change the death of the Baptist so much, all for a purpose we don’t even have good evidence of.

        • adam

          Hey if a ‘creative writer’ can input the resurrection, not only of Jesus but of the graveyards at the same time…..

          Then they can change anything they can IMAGINE.

        • MNb

          That applies to almost every single text from Antiquity.

          http://www.livius.org/hi-hn/ha/hist_aug.html

          “At least one ruler has been invented”
          Hence it’s exactly the task of the modern historian to develop reliable methods that separate fact from fiction. Historians of Antiquity have been very busy with that task last 200 years or so.

        • T-Paine

          Apology of Aristides is from a literary genre of Apologia. It is a long winded polemical attack on religions of the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Chaldeans (Babylonians). The work denigrates the gods and traditions in the eastern part of the empire yet praises and promotes Christian doctrine and dogma (which dogma though? They were supposedly many at that time. Perhaps The Official [Catholic] one?). It wouldn’t suprise me if this work was written well after the 2nd century C.E., since it is from a genre of doctrinal and polemical attacks on non-christian religions and support on Christian dogma written to appeal to a past roman emperor. I could easily do the same thing: Write a long winded polemical letter (treatise) addressed to Abraham Lincoln which I attack slave holders and anti-abolitionists but praise abolitionists and promote unconditional equal rights to all freed slaves in the country.

        • buttle

          “It wouldn’t suprise me if this work was written well after the 2nd century C.E.”

          It’s the exact same genre of Justin Martyr, and in fact it is much shorter and to the point, it surely looks like it preceded it and was possibly used by it as a model. Should we put Justin Martyr in the third century forgeries too? It’s very important not to give in to overskepticism: some damn christian must have written something in the second century, and there’s no particular reason this Aristides couldn’t be one of them.

        • T-Paine

          Should we put Justin Martyr in the third century forgeries too?

          Yes.

          It’s very important not to give in to overskepticism: some damn
          christian must have written something in the second century, and there’s
          no particular reason this Aristides couldn’t be one of them.

          There’s no evidence that any of these apologia were written at the dates they are ascribed. None. All these apologia were written to defend the doctrine (which doctrine) of The Church? What “Church”? There was no one doctrine or no “orthodoxy” until the formation of the Catholic Church in the 4th century. Irenaeus “Against Heresies”? What “heresies”? If there are heterodoxies then what is the orthodoxy? Is it “The Church” and this “Irenaeus” who’s a “bishop” of Lyons? Before the 4th century there was no evidence of “the Church” “orthodoxy” much less “heterodoxies” to attack. All these writings assume the existence of a unified Church, orthodoxy, and “heterodoxies” to attack – and this could not have been a reality before the 4th century!

          This is why believe that the assumed dates of all christian writings should be challenged.

        • buttle

          “There was no one doctrine or no “orthodoxy” until the formation of the Catholic Church in the 4th century.”

          Overskepticism indeed. By the middle of the second century a core of our modern orthodoxy was pretty much established. Sure, many doctrines later forced upon the people were not fully established or widespread, like the trinity, but doctrines continue to be invented even even in modern churches, even if they deny they are inventing new doctrines, and that doesn’t mean that we can’t discern a set of core doctrines or beliefs common to all modern churches that dates back to the second century. Like you i don’t believe those doctrines go back to the first century, i think that before the gospel narrative were invented things were substantially different and modern christians would reject what Paul and the early christians really believed: there’s a black hole that can’t be filled with the traditional apologetic attempts. But before the end of the second century we have an unofficial canon that basically matches our modern one, we have a description of the gospels and of the beliefs of christians that pretty much is still in place today among christians. This idea that the catholic church was artificially invented in the fourth century just doesn’t fit the evidence (unless you want to nitpick on the meaning of “catholic church”, but i’m not in the mood.)

        • T-Paine

          Recite the official story if you want. If there was one single unified church, doctrine, and theology before the 4th century, then Constantine wouldn’t have decreed and formed one, there wouldn’t have been council after council of bishops arguing over doctrines and theologies and “the nature of Jesus”, or deciding which books are inspired and which are not – but that’s not what happened did it?

        • buttle

          There was no unified church doctrine and theology in the second century, but actually there was no unified church doctrine and theology even in the fourth: nestorians were going strong in the east, Arianism wasn’t still defeated, and so on.

          This doesn’t mean that a christian writer could not complain about “heretics” from his point of view, both in the second and in the fourth century, as many did.

          This also doesn’t mean that a christian writer could not pretend unity among christians by ignoring dissidents while addressing outsiders, as many did, both in the second and in the fourth century.

          This doesn’t even mean that some writer couldn’t argue for his version of christianity being the earliest and only real one, while at the same time acknowledging the existence of opponents, both in the fourth and in the second century, as poor Justin did, and i don’t really know what he should have said to make you question your unfalsifiable concoction.

          So this is a complete nonsequitur. You are all worked up about Constantine and the catholic “conspiracy” in the fourth century. I couldn’t care less about the fourth century, that’s irrelevant to any argument about what was going on in the second century. And since I’m tired of nonsequiturs, goodbye.

        • adam

          “This also doesn’t mean that a christian writer could not pretend”

          Hey they pretend there is magic, so no surprise here.

        • buttle

          Well, i assumed disqus ate my first reply, so i wrote another one, now it sput it back here, but i still don’t see the second one, it will probably come up later… I don’t know… Not good.

        • Greg G.
        • buttle

          I’m very open to the idea of second century texts being forgeries, for example i have serious doubts about Hegesippus, but for the ones we are discusing, that is Aristides, Justin and now even Iraeneus, you have not provided even a hint of an anachronism or something unusual for a middle to late second century text written by an overconfident christian fundamentalist with very little clues about the origin of his religion and a strongly developed persecution complex, that is, every christian with an axe to grind. Your idea of an unrecognizable “orthodoxy” before the fourth century is unsupported, you may call it whatever you want, but the fourth century “church” was formed by accretion of doctrines from a preceding third and second century “church” with a mostly shared canon and almost identical gospel narrative, not by inventing it from scratch. The fact that other churches existed and some of them quickly died out doesn’t prove that wrong. I think you are way off base.

        • T-Paine

          I never said the Catholic Church was invented “out of scratch”. You’ll confirm my point in the second quotation below.

          Your idea of an unrecognizable “orthodoxy” before the fourth century is unsupported…

          No, not unrecognizable orthodoxy, nonexistent orthodoxy. Many doxa, yes. But no unified, universal doxa. And certainly no “heterodoxy” if there was no “orthodoxy”.

          …the fourth century “church” was formed by accretion of doctrines from a preceding third and second century “church”…

          And there’s my point.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Robert M. Price is a proponent of that late dating, with Bar Kochba being the catastrophe rather than the fall of the Temple in 70.

    • Jim Jones

      It seems reasonable that the authentic Pauline epistles (all 4 or 6 of them) were written in the early 1st century. There are assumptions there of course.

      However I maintain that Mark wasn’t written until after 135 CE and the rest followed. I invite proof that I am wrong. I have yet to see anything but wishful thinking.

      • T-Paine

        It seems reasonable that the authentic Pauline epistles (all 4 or 6 of them) were written in the early 1st century.

        Why does it seem reasonable to you?

        • Jim Jones

          That’s when he was alive?

        • T-Paine

          We know Paul lived in the early 1st century because he wrote his epistles, and we know he wrote his epistles in the early 1st century because he lived at that time?

        • Jim Jones

          If Paul didn’t exist the epistles are confusing. One person wrote 4 to 6 of them and it wasn’t Paul??

        • T-Paine

          Who said Paul didn’t exist? I’m wondering why you think Paul lived in the early 1st century.

        • Jim Jones

          He was supposedly a contemporary of Jesus – although Jesus never existed.

        • T-Paine

          Just like I’m a contemporary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 😀

        • adam

          “One person wrote 4 to 6 of them and it wasn’t Paul??”

          Im confused…..

        • Jim Jones

          John of Patmos almost certainly wrote Revelation. Paul probably wrote 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans and Philemon since they share an author. A couple more could be included since they may have been composed under Paul’s direction. However every other epistle has a different author – these are fakes.

          And all the other books have no known author or authors, except that Luke and Acts share an author – also unknown.

        • T-Paine

          Well it was written (or at least partially) by some one named John. The tradition originally was it was written by the same author as the gospel of John – until it wasn’t, and then tradition changed from John the Evangelist to John of Patmos.

        • adam

          Sounds like a clear case of FRAUD to put Paul’s name on those.

        • Jim Jones

          They call them pseudepigrapha which sounds nicer than fakes.

        • Greg G.

          I was guessing that Galatians would be among the four and that Philemon would be seventh. 1 Thessalonians and Philippians would be five and six.

          2 Corinthians may be a compilation of letters though they may all be from Paul. The letter mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:9 might be 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 and the letter mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2:3-4 and 7:8 might be 2 Corinthians 10-13.

          1 Corinthians has some interpolations. 1 Corinthians 10:23 to 11:29 has an obvious seam at 10:22 and 11:30, though 11:2-17 may be an interpolation of an interpolation. The Eucharist narrative in 11:23-26 looks like it is borrowed from Luke’s version.

        • Jim Jones

          The most conservative selection, based on computer textual analysis, supports the four I indicated.

        • Greg G.

          2 Corinthians 11:32 makes a reference to Aretas as king which would make Paul a contemporary but Aretas was king for nearly 50 years from 9 BC to about 40 AD.

          Here are some tings that puzzle me?

          It seems to me that if letters were being forged in the 2nd century to look like they were written in the first century, there should be an effort to make them look like they were written in the first century but more specific than a reference to the least dateable person of the first century. Something more like the 1 Timothy reference to Pilate, maybe.

          If letters were to be forged in somebody’s name, the name should be known. If the name is known from his writings, why not use his original writings, too?

          If the Pauline epistles and the general epistles were written so late, then they would have been collected soon after. Why would there be two different naming conventions for the groups?

        • T-Paine

          2 Corinthians 11:32 makes a reference to Aretas as king which would make
          Paul a contemporary but Aretas was king for nearly 50 years from 9 BC
          to about 40 AD.

          There were four Nabataean kings named Aretas. How do we know that Aretas IV Philopatris is the one Paul is referring to?

        • Greg G.

          True. That name for kings of Nabatea goes back to the early second century BC.

  • KarlUdy

    Thanks for doing this research. The charts are interesting. Of course, I come to different conclusions about what the lengths imply …

    • MNb

      And what would that conclusion be? Something like

      “You wouldn’t believe a supernatural story if it was claimed to have happened yesterday”
      but you do believe it when it was claimed to happen in 1840 CE?

      • KarlUdy

        That the lengths, combined with the geographical spread and number of manuscripts adds credence to the claims that the manuscripts are accurate transmissions of the originals.

        • T-Paine

          How so?

        • Rudy R

          No one would ever confuse your rational for logic and reasoning. If you don’t have the original manuscripts, how do you know the copies depict an accurate account of historical events, given that those stories depicted actual history and not fiction? Many scholars would attest that the scribes would frequently change texts for their own honest or nefarious reasons, which should leave one to ask, what is the actual true copy of the original and what was changed?

        • Joe

          It would seem to argue the opposite, but hey, that’s your opinion.

        • MNb

          Are you sure you are not talking about the Quran and the Veda’s?

        • KarlUdy

          I’d love to see similar charts on the Quran and Veda’s.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, that would be interesting. Let us know if you find a link to that.

        • Rudy R

          You’re a Christian because?:

          A. You were born into the religion.
          B. See A.

        • KarlUdy

          Rudy, you need to get out more

        • Rudy R

          Out where?

        • KarlUdy

          Out where people possess different beliefs than those they were brought up in

        • MNb

          Ah – you’re advocating cherry picking and confirmation bias.

        • Rudy R

          Well, I lived in Asia for 5 years, exposed to Buddhism and traveled in Middle East and Northern Africa countries, so was exposed to Islam. What point are you trying make again?

        • KarlUdy

          Didi you ever meet a Christian who wasn’t born into Christianity?

        • Rudy R

          Yes.

        • KarlUdy

          How would they answer your question then?

        • adam

          Depends on how they were indoctrinated.

        • Rudy R

          I couldn’t say. Were you not born into Christianity?

          My original comment was snarky, but it was meant to imply that you probably wouldn’t be convinced to follow the teachings of the Quran or Vedas, even if the charts were more favorable as to their veracity than the Bible.

        • MNb

          You above:

          “when considered with the length of time and geographical spread ”
          “all within 150 years”
          Around 770 CE islam and hence the Quran had spread from northern Spain to Afghanistan. That’s larger than the spread of the Bible.
          India isn’t exactly a small country either.
          So you are arguing for the Quran and the Vedas indeed.

        • KarlUdy

          I have no issue with the accurate preservation of the Quran from the originals. However, you aren’t comparing apples with apples unless you are suggesting that we have copies of the Quran dating to that time. (There may well be, I don’t know).

        • MNb

          Google is your friend.

          http://www.bbc.com/news/business-33436021

          However that was not the point. The point was testing what “accurate preservation from the originals” means for you.

          What I find remarkable is that you, as someone with an interest in the topic, seemingly aren’t aware of what science says.

          http://www.livius.org/articles/theory/textual-criticism/

          Of course the method has been criticized – like every single scientific method:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textual_criticism#Limitations_and_criticism

          But the empirical test for the method has been successful, as the second link shows.

          Combined with BobS’ beloved “laymen should accept the scientific consensus” we can answer

          “How much confidence can we have in a copy that is centuries older than the original?”
          in a quite positive way – because that has been the scientific consensus for quite a while now.
          Isn’t it sad that you need a hardcore atheist not only to clarify, but also to scientifically support your point?

        • Lark62

          Actually, I believe they have found copies of the Quran that date before Muhammed. Awkward.

        • GubbaBumpkin

          ‘Oldest’ Koran fragments found in Birmingham University

          These tests provide a range of dates, showing that, with a
          probability of more than 95%, the parchment was from between 568 and 645.
          “They could well take us back to within a few years of the
          actual founding of Islam,” said David Thomas, the university’s professor of Christianity and Islam.
          “According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Koran, the
          scripture of Islam, between the years 610 and 632, the year of his death.”

        • Jim Jones

          The first or second version?

        • eric

          John 7:53 through 8:11, the story of the adulteress, is a well-known forgery (to biblical scholars). Yet it is consistently and accurately duplicated in pretty much every single version of the bible and has been for about 1500 years. 1,500 years of consistency across hundreds of different translations couldn’t be wrong about it, could they? Well, yes they could. In a world before the printing press, a ‘snowball effect’ can allow one forgery to become the standard.

          Makes you wonder what other passages might be like the story of the adulteress, but forged circa 100 while the oral traditions were being documented instead of circa 500 like the adulteress story, hmmmm?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker
        • sandy

          The adulteress story showed up around 900 to 1000 CE. An obvious addition. Bart Ehrman is probably the best author on forgeries of the new testament and how the bible is a purely human construct. “Forgeries” is his best work IMO followed by “Misquoting Jesus”. Dan Barker has a great new book out on how disgusting Yahweh is and follows Dawkins description of him. When a religion such as Christianity is solely based on a book and that booked is so flawed we see how childhood indoctrination and what other forces are at work to brain wash the masses.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Number of manuscripts? How is that helpful?

          Suppose we found a cave where a million more Greek copies of the NT were found, each from the Middle Ages. Suppose further that they’re all slight variations on the manuscripts of that date that we already have. Since we only have 5000 copies now, how much would this increase our confidence in the accurate transmission of the original text?

          You’ve seen this chart and the post that goes along with it?

          http://wp.patheos.com.s3.amazonaws.com/blogs/crossexamined/files/2013/11/Graph-of-NT-manuscripts.jpg

        • KarlUdy

          I did not say that the number of manuscripts alone is convincing. You have given an example of late manuscripts with no geographical spread. My point was that the number of manuscripts, when considered with the length of time and geographical spread are persuasive of an accurate transmission.

          For example, P46 is an Alexandrian manuscript. It includes 1 Corinthians 15, which is also quoted by Irenaus who was Bishop of Lyon in the 2nd century, and by Ignatius of Antioch around the beginning of the 2nd century. Alexandria, Lyon, Antioch, all within 150 years.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          P46 is roughly dated to 200 CE. That’s 150 years after Paul wrote 1 Cor. You’re going to brag about that? You’ve got a supernatural claim with a 150-year gap from original document to our best copy, and you’re pleased about that?

        • PaulDouglas1

          Apologists are always pleased with any scrap they can cling to.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yeah, though the angle they usually take is, “OK, that’s a bit of a long time, but compare it to other ancient books! The New Testament books look much better than them!

        • T-Paine

          “And no it’s not because the New Testament books were the central texts to the official cult of the empire and that cult became the religion in continental Europe for the last 1500 years that we have thousands and thousands of copies, but it’s because of GOD!”

        • Susan

          My point was that the number of manuscripts, when considered with the length of time and geographical spread are persuasive of an accurate transmission.

          How does this combination point to accuracy?

        • KarlUdy

          It implies either a reduced window of time for errors to be introduced, or a multiplicity of identical errors at different provenances

        • Susan

          It implies either a reduced window of time for errors to be introduced

          Reduced from what?

          or a multiplicity of identical errors at different provenances

          It implies a story copied and copied again.

          In a world where some of the story tellers controlled the story through cultural control and the sword. .

          What does this have to do with “accuracy”? What sort of accuracy are you getting at? What criteria for “accuracy” are you suggesting? How does this compare to other claims of “accuracy”?

          http://www.dictionary.com/browse/accuracy?s=t

        • KarlUdy

          Reduced from what?

          Reduced from “time of writing to the time of earliest copy” down to “time of writing to time of time of latest copy that is antecedent to those copies”.

        • buttle

          It took at most 2 weeks for a document to travel by mail across the roman empire. “Geographical spread over 150 years” is a completely meaningless metric for anything.

          But actually i don’t think the long time between the earliest epistles and their first complete copy to be such a big deal: most instances of corruption would have been very early anyway. The huge problem is that many other supposedly ancient documents were actually written in the second century, as the charts show (and actually underestimate). So the more problematic ones are the documents with the smaller delay between original and earliest fragment or even earliest attestation! Basically this means that the only christianity that survived out of all the heretical sects of the time was a credulous one who forged its own holy books. If they had to fake their holy books to hold their faith (a common theme in the pastorals, 2 peter and others), what else were they mistaken about, and why would you trust them?

        • sandy

          or that a god was involved

        • sandy

          The main point of it all is we have NO originals of “gods word”…this is his only communication and evidence that this god has failed in his communication…sad when you think of what powers he supposedly has.

        • https://thebookofamos.wordpress.com/ Harry Amos

          I know this is one year old, yet idea still needs scrutiny. When do these texts’ manuscripts date to? We don’t have originals of Ignatius or Irenaeus either. Aside from a few fragments, the earliest manuscripts for the writings of Irenaeus are in Latin (not Greek) and dated to c.380 CE.

          As for Ignatius, we possess no pure manuscript of the original corpus, for in the fourth century the letters were interpolated and six additional ones added (Mary of Cassobola to Ignatius; Ignatius to Mary, to the Tarsians, Philippians, Antiochenes, and to Hero, deacon of Antioch). Most of “his” works are acknowledged to be later forgeries.

          https://thebookofamos.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/measuring-forgery-in-early-christianity-part-2/

        • Lark62

          That millions of copies of Harry Potter exist does not have any bearing on the historical accuracy of HP.

  • RichardSRussell

    Bob, I hope you’ve tagged the living daylights out of these charts, so they’ll show up near the top of a keyword search in Google Images. They deserve a widespread distribution.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I’ll go make sure I’ve done my SEO best (which isn’t very good). Thanks.

  • Tyler Willis

    Interesting data. I”m a visual person so the graphs are nice. Thanks, Bob.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Thanks.

  • Matt Cavanaugh

    The first ten Pauline epistles first appear out of the blue c. 140. The time gap should be calibrated to that approximate date.

    • Matt Cavanaugh

      Though I get the point of this exercise is to cast doubt on the plausibility of a long period of oral transmission.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        No, the point of this exercise is to cast doubt that we can recreate reliable copies of the originals. The long period of oral history is a separate (large) problem.

        • sandy

          Agreed but the real point is what a horrible way for a perfect god to communicate his word and we have no originals…he failed. I guess he gets a do over, at some time with his word, like he did with the flood…but don’t hold your breath for that one…like jesus is coming back.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          This time-gap issue is just one of several problems in the claim of historicity for the NT story. But yeah–it’s hard to imagine a god doing this clumsy a job in getting his message out.

        • primenumbers

          And it’s an oral history on the assumption (unevidenced) that there’s an actual history to be oral about…. Far more likely is that they all got their info in the same way Paul tells us he does – revelation and interpretation of scripture.

  • MR

    ….Paul Bunyan stories circulated for at least thirty years before finding their way into print. –Wikipedia

    • Giauz Ragnarock

      Fairy tales cleaned up and edited in print are totally all the different spins and personal touches that people gave to these word of mouth stories, lol 😉

    • Jim Jones

      The Lady Godiva myth wasn’t written down until 100 years after her death – and then it was written by monks!

      She was a real person – but her name wasn’t Lady Godiva and she never rode a horse naked.

      • Greg G.

        Next you will be telling us she wasn’t a chocolatier, either.

        • David Rice

          You deserve death for this. Blasphemy against the gods is not a sin; blasphemy against chocolate damn well is!

      • MR

        Great example!

      • Michael Neville

        But Godgifu Chocolates don’t sound as appetizing as Godiva Chocolates.

  • SparklingMoon,

    The writer of Gospel Luke informs in the very beginning of his Gospel(Luke:1):
    (1) ”Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, (2)just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, (3)it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, (4)that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

    This statement of Luke confirms that many people had written Gospels and descriptions of Gospels had been heard from others. There is no proof for these four gospels that they had been written by the help of Holy Spirit (as is claimed by some followers of these four Gospels). There is not even one word from the writers of these four gospels that it had been written with the help of Holy spirit. The writer of the Gospel Luke instead testified that descriptions had been heard from other people.

    The New Testament speaks about three major preachers: Peters, Barnabas and Paul who delivered the message of Christianity. Let us we examine these three characters in the light of the Bible. Mark (who was also student of Peter) writes the sayings of Jesus about Peter in his Gospel Mark 8: (32)”And he (Jesus) said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him(Jesus)(33) But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” It was the same Peter who latter denied Jesus many times of being his disciple when Jesus was arrested to bring cross..

    The second major preacher in the Bible is Paul. According to new Testament Paul was severe enemy of Jesus during his life and never had any direct contact with Jesus, except through his claimed vision. Paul was an inhabitant of Tarsus and spent a long time in Rome He was a Roman citizen and realized the strong hold which the Roman religion had on the masses. The intellectuals were under the ‘influence of Plato and Aristotle therefore Paul felt that it would not be possible to convert the masses in the Roman Empire without making mutual adjustments. It is confessed by Paul: (20)To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. (21)To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. He further says ” I have become all things to all people, that by all means ” (1 Corinthians 9)

    Paul exclaimed that purpose of his preaching is to gain a great number of converts to the new faith in the name of Christ ” (18) What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. ” (Philippians 1) It was equal for Paul to speak truth or lie to achieve his purpose: (7) But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? (8)And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. (Romans 3 ) Paul actually did not change the doctrines, myths of the pagan world but changed the message of Jesus and Moses to achieve his purpose and even called Jesus a cursed person: ”(10)For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (11)Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (12)But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” (13)Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— (Galatians 3)

    Barnabas is also described as a major preacher of Jesus in the very beginning of Christianity. The writer of Act Luke (even he was against Barnabas) had praised him: ”((Act 11: 24) for he (Barnabas) was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. ”The oldest center of preaching the message of Jesus was in Antioch and Barnabas was selected as a teacher by other followers of Jesus. Luke has confessed ”And in Antioch the disciples were first called the Christian (the followers of Messiah).” (Acts 11: 26) According to the descriptions of four Gospels Barnabas was never condemned neither by Jesus nor by his disciples. He later also exclaimed no word against Jesus or of his message.

    As recorded in the Acts, Barnabas, represented those who had become personal disciples of Jesus, and Paul co-operated with them for some time. But finally they fell out. Paul wanted to give up the Commandments given through Moses about things to eat; he wanted to give up the Commandment given through Abraham regarding circumcision. Barnabas and the other personal disciples disagreed. The following sentences in the Acts give a hint of the rift “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, “Except ye be circumcised after- the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” “When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputations with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question” (Acts14:1 and 2). After this rift, there was a parting of the followers of Barnabas and followers of Paul.

    In the Acts, Barnabas disappears after the rift, because the recording of the acts of the Apostles was done by the followers of Paul.Because of Paul’s compromise with Roman beliefs and legends, Pauline Christians grew in number and grew in strength. A stage was later reached when kings were used as pawns to further the ends of the Church.

    Barnabas after seeing Paul and his misguided preaching against the message of Jesus, had written a Gospel to safe the soul message of Jesus for his followers. Gospel Barnabas is available online and is helpful to explore those teachings of Jesus that had been changed by Paul and other sayings of Jesus that latter had been removed and concealed by the followers of Trinity to deprive the followers of Jesus to find truth.

    • Matthew46

      Read: Christ’s Ventriloquists (Zuesse).

    • http://www.rejectingjesus.com Acalibre

      And this is relevant how?

  • Dennis Smith

    How are you coming up with the “dates of the original”?

    • AG

      This is the question I have. How are those dates arrived at? How reliable are they?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        I’m sure the dates are quite fuzzy. You’re right to point out that a nice, fixed date in these tables may be reassuring, but that stability is misplaced.

        And, whoops, I should’ve given this source for the dates of the originals. The link to Dennis was the estimated dates of the manuscripts: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dating_the_Bible#Table_IV:_New_Testament)

        • Pofarmer

          EarlyChristianwritings.com has a lot of information on how the various stories are dated, along with the generally accepted range, although I am beginning to think the accepted range on the Gospels isn’t long enough.

        • Greg G.

          I use that site often. It has multiple translations of ancient writings and a variety of commentary on them.

        • Pofarmer

          Yep, it’s an excellent resource. Where else can you find links to multiple translations, of the Didiche? All, of which, btw, don’t point to an Earthly Jesus as all. Only the Jesus “Son of God.”

    • Greg G.

      I think he is giving the benefit of the doubt to the apologists.

      • primenumbers

        Would love to see error bars on the graph.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I’ve made a note to add information about errors (which are themselves just guesses, of course).

        • primenumbers

          That’d be great as for instance, there’s significant ambiguity in the dating of P52 for instance (being only dated paleographically) with even it being suggested it’s 3rd century.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Is nothing sacred? Can’t the Christians have their early dating of P52??

          “any serious consideration of the window of possible dates for P52 must include dates in the later second and early third centuries.” Wikipedia

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker
  • wtfwjtd

    This is a great exercise Bob, thanks for the visuals! I’ve always thought this to be one of the weakest arguments of the apologist–to somehow claim that reliable copies of an (unknown) original text= absolute historical accuracy of their contents. I never hear apologists claiming, “Look! We have hundreds of copies of Homer’s Odyssey! Therefore all the stories contained therein MUST be true!”

    Obviously, there’s a lot of special pleading going on here.

    The existence of a large number of copies of copies of copies (of copies…x?) would only seem to indicate that these were popular stories at the time, and little else. As to the veracity of their contents, well…when has that consideration ever kept a story from being popular?

    • MNb

      “absolute historical accuracy of their contents”
      It’s antiscientific.

      http://www.livius.org/articles/theory/maximalists-and-minimalists/

      Even maximalists don’t accept absolute historical accuracy of any text.

      This matter is undecided yet. In the case of JC’s De Bello Gallico maximalism seems justified. The minimalists appeared to be too pessimistic. In Dutch:
      https://mainzerbeobachter.com/2015/12/12/caesar-in-noord-gallie-belang/#more-20422

      The controversy was tested in Megiddo – and my very own discipline, physics failed to deliver:

      https://mainzerbeobachter.com/2015/07/27/israelische-archeologie/

      Radiometry confirmed both the minimalist (940 CE – Salomo and hence David were just local chieftains) and maximalist (970 CE – Salomo was a great king and hence possibly David as well) hypothesis.

      I remember I LOLLed when I read it for the first time. So much for physics being accurate!

      • wtfwjtd

        “Even maximalists don’t accept absolute historical accuracy of any text.”

        Of course–but apologists have something they think is even better than science and evidence–faith. With faith, you don’t need no stinkin’ evidence.

        I remember seeing something on PBS about that Jerusalem discussion a few years ago. Claimants from both sides wanted science to confirm their hypothesis–and like you noted, the findings weren’t quite accurate enough to settle the dispute. Like you, I found it rather ironic. I guess the dispute over Jerusalem will not be settled any time soon; at least, not in this way.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Just one example: Karl Udy is an occasional commenter here, and I tried to point out that 200 years from original to our best copy for Matthew (on average) is horrendously bad evidence if you want to build something important on it. He simply refuses to accept it.

      • Dave Burke

        >>
        I tried to point out that 200 years from original to our best copy for Matthew (on average) is horrendously bad evidence if you want to build something important on it.
        >>

        Damn. Now we have to chuck out Tacitus (1,000 years from original to our best copy) and the biography of Alexander the Great (written more than 250 years after his death). Horrendously bad evidence!

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Horrendously bad evidence … given what the Christians want to build on it.

          In the case of Alexander, they want to claim (if you can believe it!) that he was a successful general. What do you think–does that get a pass?

          It’s not quite as big a claim as Jesus being part of the construction team that built the universe.

        • MR

          Does anyone claim that our copies of Tacitus or Plutarch are carbon copies of the originals? Does anyone give absolute credence to every iota they wrote? Does anyone buy into the supernatural elements of their stories?

          Sounds to me like someone’s knee-jerking apologist site talking points instead of thinking the obvious through for themselves. Why is this so hard?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I’m certain that after a moment’s reflection, Dave Burke will see that this popular apologetic argument doesn’t work.

          Well, not actually certain, I don’t suppose …

        • MR

          He seems a pretty intelligent guy but, right out the gate, for me he basically has just stamped across his forehead: “Argues In Bad Faith.”

        • Pofarmer

          “Why is this so hard?”

          Because it contradicts their previously held belief.

        • Rudy R

          What’s the harm in believing Alexander the Great existed based on horrendously bad evidence? None.

          What’s the harm in believing Jesus of Nazareth existed based on horrendously bad evidence? A worldview that rationalizes misogny, racism, and bigotry.

          The main difference between Alexander the Great and Jesus is that Alexander’s existence is corroborated in his lifetime by multiple independent witnesses ranging from Egypt to Mesopotamia and Jesus’ existence is corroborated by nothing in his lifetime.

        • epeeist

          The main difference between Alexander the Great and Jesus is that Alexander’s existence is corroborated

          But you’re not supposed to bring in corroboration, you are only supposed to consider the biographies written long after event. I mean how can we be sure that Leonardo da Vinci existed since Vasari didn’t produce a biography until nearly 50 years after his death.

        • Pofarmer

          What’s actually funny, is that both folks want to argue about the specific wording of passages in the text such as “Brother of the Lord” or some such, when we know that many things in the original texts were changed and that the original forms are unrecoverable. It’s silly.

  • David Rice

    Many cultists love to state that “we have 30,000 copies of the originals.” The claim is, of course, false. The cultists’ argument appears to be like: “About 120,000 copies of SALEM’S LOT are floating around out there, in many different languages. Therefore vampires exist.”

    The ghost stories in MATTHEW were appended by later writers, and not found in the older versions.

    Sheeeeit, in some gospels at the time Jesus never visited Earth at all: he remained up there in the sky with the other gods.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      If the argument were only made about some other guy’s religion, they’d see the error easily.

  • Gregory Peterson

    Not to mention that as Bart D. Ehrman has pointed out, if memory serves, the early Christian scribes were usually not professional scribes. Which means that they were more error prone and given to editing, such as adding notes they thought were part of the script, or deleting or altering what just didn’t seem “right” to them.

  • Argus

    Here’s the thing.

    We have hundreds of religions. Let’s say there are 4-5 at the top. Most all of them are ancient and based on texts that are full of claims. Just claims. True, some may refer to actual historical places or events as a narrative setting but so far there supernatural claims are just that. Just claims.

    Questions: Why should the number of copies or manuscripts or years before or after in any way inform me as whether or not they are true? If tomorrow we found a pristine codice of the entire NT and it more or less conformed to our current NT…what of it? Just because one has a quantity of unsupported claims does not lend credence to the quality of those claims.

    Look at Scientology as an example: 40 years ago some writer wrote a LOT of material claiming that humans are full of thetans and that some Galactic Overlord sent prisoners to earth on DC 8s a trillion years ago. Claims, right? His books were printed by the thousands. (maybe millions?). Amazingly, people BELIEVED his claims mere years after he wrote them down.

    Bottom line: A boxcar of horseshit smells as bad as a truckload. It’s still horseshit.

    • Eric

      “We have hundreds of religions” is my main argument against religion. Surely an omnipotent force would have given only one uniform message to humanity? And if a prophet somewhere would have tried to differ from there, surely he would have been corrected by the benevolent force?

      • Argus

        I am an atheist but if I were a theist, my response would probably be: it just shows that humans are separated from god and this shows their attempt to bridge the gap despite their blindness…or something.

        • Greg G.

          But that doesn’t answer his second question. Surely if eternal punishment, or even temporary punishment was on the line, a benevolence would not allow a separationist to infect others.

        • Eric

          There is an another interpretation: we cannot understand the force, and therefore have different religions. But that would render all exact texts and rules of religions meaningless. And I suppose that the force cannot be simultaneously un-understandable and omnipotent and present in our lives as religions claim. Besides, an omnipotent force should have no problems contacting anyone. Religious people shouldn’t have any reason to point out that you have to open up your heart to the being first.

        • Argus

          My Devil’s Advocate response would be (and a weak response) “We do not understand the ways of god right now. His ways are higher and he shall someday reveal them some sweet day.”

          😉

  • Dave Burke

    Just sayin’…

    • TheSkeptic99

      There are problems with that comparison.

      The data and material in the other works is not dependent on who wrote them or when they were written. They stand alone on their own merit. The Gospels do not have that luxury. The Iliad and Odyssey could have been written by Joe the plumber instead of Homer and it would change nothing. The events do not need to be historically accurate to be of value. The same for the others, the ideas are useful regardless of who wrote them or when. Everything about the gospels depends on them being an accurate account of the events they talk about. The ideas in the gospel are not independent of history to be important.

      • Dave Burke

        So now you’re moving the goalposts. OK.

        >>
        The Iliad and Odyssey could have been written by Joe the plumber instead of Homer and it would change nothing. The events do not need to be historically accurate to be of value.
        >>

        But I didn’t mention the Iliad and Odyssey. I’m comparing the NT documents with other ancient histories and biographies. The status of the Iliad and Odyssey is completely irrelevant.

        In any case, if the events of the Iliad and Odyssey have value without being historically accurate (let’s not forget that they’re mere mythology), why can’t the gospels, which at least have some claim to historical accuracy?

        The consensus of scholars is that the gospels have sufficient historicity to provide an accurate outline of the life and work of the historical figure known as Jesus of Nazareth. Scholars also agree that the current form of the New Testament accurately represents the original documents.

        (Source for the quote in the second picture: Marcus Borg, ‘The Gospels Are Reliable as Memory and Testimony’, in Debating Christian Theism, 2013, 432).

        • Myna A.

          The consensus of scholars is that the gospels have sufficient historicity to provide an accurate outline of the life and work of the historical figure known as Jesus of Nazareth.

          And so what does this leave us with beyond sufficient historicity? Science has evidence of seismic activity during the time Pontius Pilate was procurator. Beyond validating the account in Mathew 27, what, again, does it leave us with?

          http://www.livescience.com/20605-jesus-crucifixion.html

          Off topic thread, but showing the probability of someone existing does not provide evidence of the stories surrounding the individual being accurate. We know Charles Manson exists because he is still alive, but some of his devoted followers maintain a different view of his story nearly 50 years after the horrendous events in August 1969. Please understand, I’m not comparing Manson to Jesus (although the butchery committed by followers of the latter far exceeds the former), but he is a good example of a controversial figure surrounded by variances of storied accounts that just won’t go away.

        • Otto

          The consensus of scholars is that the gospels have sufficient
          historicity to provide an accurate outline of the life and work of the
          historical figure known as Jesus of Nazareth.

          Accurate only in the most broad sense of the term. When we take out all of the supernatural claims and all of the stories that can in no way be verified what we are left with is some guy named Jesus that lived in the general area of Judea, had some sort of religious following, and not much else. When a target is painted large enough accurate becomes a bit meaningless.

        • Joe

          Scholars also agree that the current form of the New Testament accurately represents the original documents.

          What original documents?

        • Pofarmer

          “The consensus of scholars is that the gospels have sufficient
          historicity to provide an accurate outline of the life and work of the
          historical figure known as Jesus of Nazareth. Scholars also agree that
          the current form of the New Testament accurately represents the original
          documents.”

          Well of course they do. Probably in the high 90% range of those scholars are Christians. Bart Ehrman puts it at something like 97%

    • Joe

      Yes, historical documents should all be treated with a degree of skepticism.

    • primenumbers

      You got it wrong on Alexander: https://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/another-case-of-apologetic-dishonesty-in-lee-strobels-the-case-for-christ/

      You got it wrong on earliest copies of the NT documents. Our earliest complete copy of the NT is way way way later than 100yrs. Fragments don’t count for this comparison.

      • Cygnus

        Whatever are called “fragments of the NT” are just unauthored scraps of paper that mean shit, but raised the morbid imagination of primitive Christian religion to fabricate a saviour puppet son of yahweh that kills your “soul” if you don’t accept his crap.

        Those scraps of papers are the lame excuse of Christians that they didn’t plagiarize other religions and hijacked the philosophy of antiquity muddling it in theology.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        I believe Alexander had supernatural tales told about him from his own lifetime. The Alexander Romances were put to paper shortly after his death, I believe.

        • Myna A.

          The earliest texts of The Alexander Romances were written in the 3rd century BC, so they were circulating at the time. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_romance

        • primenumbers

          “Dave Burke” thinks the earliest biographies of Alexander were written over 250yrs after his death. This is wrong. He had contemporary biographies and contemporary eye-witness accounts as the link I posted demonstrates. DB is merely recycling a false apologetic letting confirmation bias do the hard work of research for him.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          DB might think that, because he saw it written down, it must be true. Maybe that’s why he accepts the Bible.

        • primenumbers

          Lack of basic skepticism is certainly a problem….

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      As has been said before, the NT dating is too optimistic. The Codex Sinaiticus, dated to 350CE, is the oldest complete NT. The average chapter has close to 200 years from original to oldest copy.

      But you already know that from reading the post.

      And who cares about the other books? Do we accept any supernatural claims from those other books? Do we build our lives around the assumption that what they say is true? If not, then delete them from the list.

  • Sophia Sadek

    Let us not forget all of the pre-Nicene literature that was destroyed because it challenged Nicene despotism.

  • https://thebookofamos.wordpress.com/ Harry Amos

    Such a good data visualisation; not far removed from the forgery exercise I conducted and I sympathise on the manual data gathering here. I will share thi on my blog!

    Fantastic graphics for the point I have been making for years now on isolated data points. For my interest, please could you send me the spreadsheet? I would guarantee not to use the data unless I ask in advance and credit you. (My spreadsheet is available on the post for download.)

    https://thebookofamos.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/measuring-forgery-in-early-christianity-part-2/

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      OK. Contact me by email using the About page and I’ll send the speadsheet.