Textual Criticism

This past week has brought to the public’s attention the discovery of two important manuscripts: one of Leviticus and one of the Qur’an.


The Leviticus manuscript was actually discovered in 1970 in a Torah ark from a Byzantine-era synagogue excavated at Ein Gedi in Israel. It was burnt by a fire, however, and could not be deciphered until now. The scroll was found to contain Leviticus 1:1-8. It is dated no later than the 6th century A.D. (when the synagogue and village were burned).

Burnt Leviticus scroll 1

Burnt Leviticus scroll 2













Two pages of the Qur’an (portions of Surahs 18-20) were discovered inside the codex of another late 7th century Qur’anic manuscript at Birmingham University.  Radiocarbon dating of the manuscript has revealed an age of A.D 568A- 645.  Muhammad lived from A.D. 570 – 632, making it a live possibility that the manuscript fragment was composed while Muhammad was still alive.


That’s an easy answer: p52 (a fragment of John 18).  Perhaps not.  P52 is typically dated to A.D. 125-175. There is a fragment of Matthew 21, p104, that is dated to A.D. 100-200.  The mean age of both manuscripts is A.D. 150, but if p104 is as early as its terminus a quo, then p104 may be the earliest NT manuscript.






Of course, there is still the possibility that we have a fragment of Mark’s gospel dated to before A.D. 90. The court is still out on this one since the research on this fragment has yet to be published. If it turns out to be a valid date, it would be the first NT fragment from the first century to be discovered – an exciting prospect indeed!

Christian apologists have long pointed out that when it comes to textual reliability, the NT is in a league of its own compared to all other ancient texts.  According to NT manuscript expert Daniel Wallace, there are 1000x more copies of the NT than the average ancient Greek text.  If we stacked the NT manuscripts on top of each other, they would reach more than a mile high.  Not only are there more manuscripts for the NT than any other ancient text, but the gap between the original text and our first copies is smaller for the NT than other ancient texts.  There are 3x as many NT manuscripts within 200 years of the original text than the average Greco-Roman text has in 2000 years.

Unfortunately, many of the statistics appearing in apologetics literature are outdated.  Additional manuscripts of both the NT and other ancient texts continue to be discovered.  Clay Jones wrote an article for the Christian Research Institute in 2012 providing the latest stats.  The article was recently posted on the CRI website.  Check it out and see how the NT compares to other ancient Greek texts.

According to Daniel Wallace:

The total number of catalogued Greek New Testament manuscripts now stands at 128 papyri, 322 majuscules, 2926 minuscules, and 2462 lectionaries, bringing the grand total to 5838 manuscripts.

CSNTM has also “discovered” two more minuscule manuscripts in the summer of 2013 on our European expeditions which will most likely receive their Gregory-Aland numbers in due time.

Daniel Wallace is a prominent evangelical NT textual critic.  He has written about the field in various places, but never in much detail, and never in a book dedicated to the topic.  So I was very excited when I heard he was editing a collection of essays on the topic.  

Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament is not a general book on the topic of NT textual criticism, but a collection of essays criticizing the analysis and methodology of Bart Ehrman.  Indeed, if you have heard any of Wallace and Ehrman’s three debates, you will already be familiar with much of the material Wallace presents in his chapter.  But it is nice to have that wealth of information put to print and to have access to all of the details Wallace provides in the footnotes.  Here are a few facts about the NT manuscripts that are of note:  (more…)

Daniel Wallace revealed some additional details regarding some early NT papyri manuscripts in a video interview with Michael Licona, one of which is the highly touted first century fragment of Mark. 

In a nutshell:

  • Number: There are 7 papyri manuscripts of the gospels and Paul’s letters
  • Size: All manuscripts are less than 1 leaf
  • Dates: 1 is probably 1st century, 4 from the 2nd century, and 2 that are probably 2nd century but could be dated to the 3rd century
  • NT Books represented:
    • 1 = Matthew
    • 1 = Mark (possibly 1st century)
    • 1 = Luke
    • 1 = Romans
    • 1 = First Corinthians
    • 2 = Hebrews

I can’t wait to find out more about the collection in 2013!

It’s long been the conclusion of scholars that Esther and Nehemiah are the only books of the OT not represented among the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The May/June 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), however, reports that Norwegian scholar, Torleif Elgvin of the Evangelical Lutheran University College in Oslo, Norway, and Esther Eshel of Bar-Ilan University are publishing a collection of two dozen previously unknown DSS fragments from Cave 4, the Bar-Kokhba caves, and Wadi ed-Daliyeh in a book titled Gleanings from the Caves (T&T Clark publishers).  If this checks out, then Esther would remain the only book not found in the DSS.  Of course, if Nehemiah and Esther were written on the same scroll as most scholars believe, then while we may not have an extant copy of Esther from the DSS, there is good reason to believe the text was present in the community as part of the Nehemiah scroll.

Next Page »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 394 other followers