Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture: Proposition 2

Part 1, Proposition 2 – Expansions and revisions were possible as documents were copied generation after generation and eventually compiled into literary works

This section practically reads like a primer on textual criticism, at least a couple of its components. Essentially Walton considers the role of the scribe in the transmission of what would become the canonical text. Here he asks an important question, one whose answer still evades satisfactory explanation: “Which version of a tradition found its way into a document?” The discussion here revolves around, as mentioned above, the role of the scribe. Walton suggests that scribes had a measure of latitude when it came to copying texts, though this varied depending on historical factors in the culture and the scribe’s level of accomplishment. Many of the changes made in the text over the centuries were what Walton describes as updates—language and place names, explanatory glosses, added sections, updated formulations, and integrated revisions to address new audiences (33–34). These are indicative of the changes that occur in language and the community in which the oral tradition is circulating. Beyond this, there were more significant changes that were introduced to the text, a phenomenon Walton describes as “innertexuatlity”—actual changes within the tradition itself. This might include new laws, wisdom sayings, narratives, etc. Here I wish that Walton would have provided concrete examples of such additions.

Walton makes an important point in this section. He suggests that changes that were introduced by the scribes would not have been seen as “destructive, deceptive, or subversive” (34), but rather advantageous. This is so because they (the scribes and the community they served) did not see their work as tampering with authority. Since authority resided in the authority figure who inaugurated the tradition, updating the text to be relevant to an ever-changing culture was necessary and would preserve the core of the tradition, though it would be couched in different language than that of its original form.

Walton continues (with many before him) to dispel the notion that the canonical text is indicative of word-for-word preservation of what Abraham, Moses, or others actually said. The distance between the origin of the oral tradition and its transcription into a document is simply too great. For Walton, this does not diminish the authority or importance of the text we have, but serves as a reminder that the text is the product of a culture that was only much later oriented around a written text. As such, the original form of the tradition recorded would have been quite different, though this is not seen as a detriment to the current text.

Αυτω η δοξα

Proposition 1


6 thoughts on “Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture: Proposition 2

  1. I have to admit, I’m a little bewildered about how someone could take a position of inerrancy while at the same time discussing topics like marginalia, glosses, & c. Again, coming from the world of secular texts, the idea that a handwritten ms that was recopied so many times could remain inerrant seems a pretty tall order. However, I concede that I may be taking this too literally, or that I simply lack the sophistication to discuss the topic. Ms traditions is a very specialised study, and I never felt up to the task.

    But one great example of the scribal gloss, I think, is in Mark 1:16, the calling of Peter & Andrew. Mark tells us “for they were fishermen”. IMO, this is a classic case where the note jotted by a copyist, or by someone studying the text eventually became incorporated as part of the text. In fact, a recent discovery of an early ms of…Isaiah (IIRC?) shows that a chunk of what was long considered to be part of the original text was actually a later addition. I apologize for the lack of details.

    Regardless, good stuff. So much I don’t know.

  2. James: I agree, at least in part. On the face of it, the idea of the Bible being inerrant, at least as it is defined by many, seems implausible. For many, though, it’s a theological issue and it is for me too. I think the editorial history of the Bible is perhaps the biggest problem for inerrancy, especially the OT. However, I still hold to inerrancy, though perhaps not as rigidly as others.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s