Translation Principles

For those of you who are a little more familiar with the terminology of Bible translation, I’m going to start out with this: I’m trying for a formal equivalence, single source, and non-scholarly translation of the Holy Scriptures.

Formal equivalence is probably the hardest part of this to explain to the uninitiated. The two directions in terms of translation style are formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. This has to do with how you translate a given phrase from one language to another. I like to think of this in terms of a scale of one to ten, with the smaller numbers being more dynamic, the bigger numbers more formal equivalence. So if you take the Hebrew sentence, “נֹחַ בֶּן־חֲמֵשׁ מֵאֹות שָׁנָה” a 1 might translate it as “Noah was 500.” A 3 might translate as “Noah was 500 years old.” A 5 might translate as “Noah was five hundred years old.” A 7 would translate it as “Noah was a son five hundred years.” A 9 would translate it as “Noah [was] a son five hundred years.” A 10 would be an interlinear along the lines of “Noah (נֹחַ) [was] a son (בֶּן) five (חֲמֵשׁ) hundred (מֵאֹות) years (שָׁנָה).” Using this scale, I aim to be somewhere in the five or six range.

Single source is a little easier to understand. In every place where I make a translation of God’s Holy and Inspired Word from a source language into English, or an interpretation of any sort, I assume one single source to be correct and preserved in absolute and trust it above all others. However, I do not use a single source to the exclusion of other sources input. I assume one source to be correct, but other versions or translations or interpretations which agree with that source can be used to extract nuance or clarity not found in the original. In Book 18 of City of God, Augustine of Hippo discusses some of these same matters in relation to the Hebrew Scriptures compared to the Septuagint.

In selecting a source, I’m going to start by saying I try to select God’s source. To explain this, I need to start out in a way that, even to those who agree with me in believing there is a supernatural realm, might sound superstitious, but trust me, where I land I’ll be pretty concrete and down to earth.

The Holy Word of God is God’s Own Self. It is immortally immutable. It has no beginning, no end, and no alteration. It forms what we know as reality, although it is more real that anything we can experience with taste, touch, hearing, sight, or smell. This immortally immutable word both formed the world, and entered the world. It entered the world in flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. In parallel to this (because to this word, there is neither before nor after nor during) it entered this world through the tongue and hand and ear and eye and nose of those whom God would call to deliver a message. In special cases, God would enter through his word in a special way, which he would through his purpose preserve in his way through his people. In such a case, each transcriber would, in a sense, be freshly inspired to copy what he had before himself. The result is that there are copies that accurately reflect what God says. The power of each new transcription comes from the immortally immutable Word of God which is God’s Own Self, transferred from the previous copy, and so on. I think for some of it, it might be helpful to read Plato’s Ion. His rings are in one aspect a well description, with the single exception that in the case of a transcription each new transcription holds all the power of the previous.

I must be careful when I say this to say what I mean. I do not exclude the possibility of mistakes. However, I do deny the ability of these mistakes to compound over time. Mistakes will be limited in scope, and in the cases of these inspired copies, they will be of a nature akin to a typo. It is not these copies which I seek to understand and connect with. It is the immortally immutable Word of God which is God’s Own Self I hope to connect to.

Now here is where things start to get tricky, so try to follow me. This theory does not exclude the possibility that a translation might be preferred over the original. In some cases, for example, I might choose a Greek translation of an Old Testament book. If I do choose something odd or obscure, I’ll try to say why.

It does mean that the source I use will have to represent a source which has been available through men of God (as opposed to the craft of men.) The source should also represent, for the most part, what people have understood God to have said. If I have a translation that radically alters some tenant of the Christian faith, I’d be concerned about my own salvation, and check it very carefully before choose to an alternate translation, switch to another version, or some more drastic action.

As to the non-scholarly in my translation principles, I’m a layman. I didn’t go to school for this. I’m doing this for one simple reason: I intend to strengthen my own connection to God through a deeper understanding of his Holy Word. For example, I’m not capitalizing pronouns unless other grammar rules require it. (You may already have noticed this, dear reader.) It has been variously explained to me that the reason people capitalize pronouns in relation to deity is because it is what they used to do for kings and such, or because they wish to emphasize the difference between God and others. In the original text, there is no difference between “he” when referred to God and men, so I will not render it differently. I live in the USA, we don’t have a king, and I use a lowercase “he” in relation to the president, so I guess that means I should use a lowercase for God as well.

I am not trying to say I’m “better” than any other. If anything, I’m trying to inspire others to seek original language studies of the scriptures because I believe pretty much anyone can do it. God is a great guy, and the closer you get to his original words, the better off you’ll be in understanding his purpose for your life, in my opinion.

Maoretic Matthew: On Divine Preservation

conspiracy: (n)

  1. the act of conspiring.
  2. an unlawful, harmful, or evil plan formulated in secret by two or more persons; plot.
  3. a combination of persons for such an unlawful, harmful, or evil purpose:
    1. He joined the conspiracy to overthrow the government.
  4. Law. an agreement by two or more persons to commit a crime, fraud, or other wrongful act.
  5. any concurrence in action; combination in bringing about a given result.

(Definition pulled from dictionary.com May 13, 2022)

Friend: “I’ve been reading your blog lately.”

Me: “Okay.”

Friend: “I had to read that article about Matthew being in Hebrew originally twice. It was amazing work!”

Me: “Thank you.”

Friend: “How long until they start updating Bibles with that information?”

Me: “If it happens, I won’t live to see it.”

Friend: “What? Why? Are you dying?”

Me: “No. It’s just, I’m not a scholar. I’m just me. And even if I did manage to get this published in an academic journal or something, scholars aren’t going to change their minds overnight.”

Friend: “What? Is there some kind of conspiracy to not listen to amateur theologians?”

Me: “No, nothing like that. I mean, unless it doesn’t need to be a plan to be a conspiracy.”

My approach to God is a little different from a lot of theologians. This isn’t strange. If you listen to Dr. N. T. Wright, Dr. Michael Heiser, Dr. Tim Mackie, Mike Winger, Jimmy Akin, Cameron Bertuzzi, Dr. Braxton Hunter, Dr. Leighton Flowers, Chris Date, Skye Jethani, Kaitlyn Schiess, and other “Gandolfs” from what Dr. Heiser calls “Christian Middle Earth,” one of the things you learn is that there isn’t one “right” way to do theology. There are a lot of matters that are open to discussion in the subject. This idea is summed up in the slogan “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.” This isn’t unique to theology. In paleontology, until very recently there has been an active debate whether Nano-Tyrannosaurus is a juvenile or a separate species from Tyrannosaurus Rex. In astrophysics, there are ongoing debates about the black hole information paradox and quantum gravity. I think that any area of deep thought will end up with these kinds of debates. In recent years, I’ve become convinced of the kind of thinking characterized by Particle Physicist Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder: taking a stand on those issues for which there is no solid reason to take a position is kinda silly.

I can give examples in the area of physics. It would be silly at this point to suggest that the Earth doesn’t have a magnetic field. We also have a very good understanding of what makes a magnetic field. Knowing that, it would make no sense to suggest that the majority of the Earth’s molten core was not ferromagnetic. If Earth’s core were not ferromagnetic, that would mean that what we understand about magnetism is false. The only people suggesting that the Earth’s core isn’t ferromagnetic either don’t grasp our current understanding of magnetism, or are suggesting that our current understanding of magnetism is incomplete. We don’t have to actually see the molten core of the planet to come to this conclusion. If you suggest that the Earth’s core is not ferromagnetic, then the educated person will ask, “Then where does the magnetic field come from?” And any answer that is not a ferromagnetic material will be met with, “That’s not how magnetism works, though.” Our understanding of theoretical points are established, and then the conclusion flows. This same reasoning doesn’t hold for something like the black hole information paradox. Whatever solution is provided to solve the black hole information paradox will be based on assumptions that have not been established by observation yet. Similarly, until recently we didn’t have enough bones to definitively define the edges of dinosaur species. Assumptions about how you divide that could be dismissed by those who preferred the other grouping.

For me, one of my goals is to establish a grounding for as many of my theological beliefs as I can. I don’t want people to be able to dismiss my assumptions without dismissing other important elements of historical studies. Finding common ground is my first goal, when it’s possible. It’s why I avoid terms like “supernatural” or “real” without clarifying them within the concession. Circular reasoning always bothers me, so I have worked hard to establish my reasoning in a non-circular way to wherever degree is possible. This means that there are a few historic doctrines that I approach with skepticism, and there are others I come at from a direction that others find unusual.

One of these is my approach to discussing the inspiration of scripture. I have seen a lot of approaches to demonstrating that scripture is inspired. One common method is to rely on prophecy. Even in such cases where a prophecy could be established as being made before the event and established to mean what we apply the interpretation to, it is really only applicable to the specific statement. As an example, Jesus’s prediction that the Jerusalem Temple would be destroyed. I believe that the Synoptic Gospels were all written before the fall of Jerusalem, but I only use this with people who already agree with me and those dates. Establishing that independently is difficult and disputable. However, even if the skeptic were to grant me the date, and grant me that Jesus’s prediction referred to the war of 70 AD, and grant me that the fulfillment was accurate (all points that could be debated) then all we would have established is that the Synoptic Gospels more-or-less preserve the words of a guy that got one prophecy right. It tells us nothing about the Gospel of John, as an example. John has no prophecy within it that occurs after the traditional dates that it was written. And what about the Infancy Gospel of James? If we’re adding John to the list without a prediction like that, why do we stop there? The Infancy Gospel of James has a pedigree nearly as old as the Gospel of John. Why include John and not James?

My approach side-steps a lot of these issues. By my approach, The Infancy Gospel of James might even have been written by James, and the letters between Seneca and Paul could be legitimate, and it doesn’t matter. After all, there’s a very real sense in which I don’t care what John, James, and Paul said, I care about what they said that comes from God.

My prime example in demonstrating what I mean is Euclid’s Elements. There’s a very real sense in which the one who reads Euclid’s Elements to learn Geometry doesn’t care what Euclid had to say. If Euclid had said something wrong, the student of mathematics would be better off skipping that section. The serious student of mathematics cares what the number line or the complex plane has to tell us about Geometry, not Euclid. However, as the centuries have progressed Euclid has been found to provide a reliable resource in getting to know the number line more intimately. You’ll learn things through Euclid that you never thought were part of mathematics. Euclid’s words are useful for proofs, for procedures, for new thoughts, and for instruction in mathematics.

How about scripture? What exactly is scripture? Paul told Timothy what we’re looking for. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that we’re looking for that which is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. When theological students seek out thoughts with these goals, they tend to land on the same written documents over and over. We need a name to refer to these quickly and easily, so we use the term “scripture.” We call the process of creating one of these documents “inspiration,” and even if we’re wrong about the mechanics of what inspiration entails it still stands for something that happens when they’re created. To that end, I’m like a physicist that accepts a particular answer to the black hole information paradox: I can’t prove my theory outside my assumptions, but it feels to me like the theory that most approximates the data we do have.

That’s one of the reasons why I pursue the original languages of the documents so feverishly: whatever else we know about the history of these documents (be they Euclid’s Elements or Matthew’s Gospel) how we identify their original text in the original language will impact how we understand what they’re saying. The general consensus is that there’s no perfect translation of anything, which led Israeli poet Haim Nachman Bialik to lament that reading your holy books in translation is like kissing your wife through a veil. No matter how well Textual Criticism works, if I’m right and Matthew was written in Hebrew then the Majority Text, Textus Receptus, or Nestle-Alund could never restore anything except a translation of Matthew’s Gospel. I want to be a bride that gets closer to my God than that.

How completely could someone restore any of the Gospels, though? I’ve established that something we can call “inspiration” does happen, whatever it means. There’s definitely a set of books that follow the pattern I’ve described. We might argue a little around the edges, but there’s definitely a core that aren’t in very much dispute and even the edges that can be disputed are a whole lot more like than unlike the pattern I’ve described. We might disagree on the particulars, but at the very least once we’ve established that this pattern is real we can agree that it fits for Matthew and not for James. Restoring the exact words that Matthew put on his page would be ideal.

There is a theory out there called Providential Preservation. The theory says that it makes no sense for God to go to all the trouble of inspiring a text if he were just going to let it fall apart afterwards. Therefore, God must move to preserve the text of the Bible in its perfectly original form somewhere. I’m skeptical of this theory on two counts. First, I’m a lot less apt to start telling God what he must have done and a lot more apt to listen to him tell me what he has done. Secondly, there are a lot of real things that really happen that don’t “make sense,” and in fact the idea that something makes sense has been used to fool scientists before.

There are critics that take this point too far, but no two biblical manuscripts are exactly alike because biblical manuscripts were copied by hand before the printing press. If the text has been divinely preserved, then it would either be a specific set of manuscripts that were nearly identical enough to all preserve the same inspired words, or scattered readings with a specific knowable algorithm to restore the original reading or at least the divine divine reasoning. At this point, textual criticism is still as much art as it is science, and so far no one has proposed a grounded means to identify divinely preserved manuscripts, original readings, or divine readings. Any declaration that this or that manuscript is better is still mostly speculative. There’s a sense that older is better and a better understanding of the provenance is better, but these are still in the “it only makes sense” camp of reasoning. As I’ve already said, I’m skeptical of things that “only make sense.”

There are means of separating between theories that “make sense” and things that are true. One of these is prediction. Another is concordance with external data. Prediction is difficult to explain, but it is both scriptural and scientific. In scripture, the most explicit reference to prediction is Deuteronomy 18:22 (KJV) “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.” This can sound like it’s only mystical predictions, though. For that reason, my favorite place to turn is Daniel chapter 1. In Daniel 1, Daniel predicts that if he and his friends eat only clean foods, they will have a healthier appearance. They divide the participants into groups who will get clean foods and those who will get the king’s food, and those who eat clean food were found to be healthier. Then there’s the story of Daniel and Bel found in Theodotion’s Greek version of Daniel. In that story, Daniel tells the King of Babylon that the idol Bel is not consuming the food offered to it. Rather, it is the priests. Daniel sets out to prove it by scattering a fine ash on the floor of the idol before sealing it up for the night, and in the morning they find the footprints of the priests in the ash. In scientific history, Einstein proposed his theory of Relativity, and one distinguishing feature between Relativity and Newtonian gravity was that under Relativity, the path of light would bend in the presence of a strong gravitational field. This would change the apparent location of stars if the light passed by a very massive object like our sun. Since the sun is too bright to observe stars near it, this could only be seen during something like an eclipse, which dimmed our view of the sun. In 1919, during a total eclipse, astronomers were able to confirm that the predictions of Relativity were correct. When we establish the means to test in advance, we call it an experiment. I would love to create experimental means to test various claims of preservation and means of weighing readings among manuscripts. I’m not sure what the name is of we are testing the theory by means provided external to our control.

Can a similar theory of prediction be applied to Textual Criticism? Yes. Sadly, the results aren’t quite as clean cut as some would hope. The claim of a providential preservationist would be that the text of the inspired text was substantially the same in the first century as our best traditional manuscripts of more modern periods. We need a counter claim to test against. The counterclaim typically proposed is what can be called the critical or liberal view. Unfortunately, both of these terms are used as a byword to insult opponents: liberal is taken in the political sense and critical is taken in the aggressive sense even though in this context neither is appropriate. Instead of calling this view critical or liberal, for this article I’m going to call this view Deliberate Preservation. We all agree that the text is preserved, some by the providence of God and others the deliberation of humans. Those who believe in Providential Preservation have a high degree of confidence in God’s ability and intentions. Those in favor of Deliberate Preservation are not as confident in human abilities or intentions. So while the Providential Preservationist thought that the text of inspired material from the first century would essentially match our best manuscripts from today, the Deliberate Preservation thought that the text of inspired material would be a pretty even mixture of readings that very closely match our best traditional manuscripts and readings that match the manuscripts, editions, and traditions that are not the mainstream, for example the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Samaritan editions. These theories existed in forms compatible with these thoughts in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Then we discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. Before uncovering the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest Hebrew edition of most Old Testament books were from the tenth century. The Dead Sea Scrolls pushed that back to the first or second century. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, we found a masterpiece of Isaiah, almost complete. This version of Isaiah was very very close to the version found in the traditional Masoretic editions of Isaiah. So that feels like a point in favor of Providential Preservation.

The Isaiah scroll isn’t the full story, though. There are fragments that match the other traditions as well. These fragments don’t read like back translations into Hebrew from the Greek or Latin, or like foreign imports in the case of the Samaritan Pentateuch. They read like natively maintained Hebrew originals of their own traditions. So that feels like a point in favor of Deliberate Preservation.

When we count these up, 60% of the readings follow the Masoretic tradition, 5% match the Septuagint, 5% match the Samaritan, and another 20% that don’t match these primary traditions exclusively. If you take each hit as a point, then the Masoretic tradition clearly wins. However, there’s a lot of nuance to that. The Samaritan tradition only covers the Pentateuch and maybe Joshua. That 5% of the total readings match what is only 20% of the books suggests that in the relevant sections, the Samaritan is represented much more extensively.

Overall, this strongly implies that neither Providential Preservation nor Deliberate Preservation actually got this “right.” The power and will of the scribes to maintain the text through centuries is impressive, well beyond what Deliberate Preservation imagined. However, multiple traditions did exist in parallel, and it was a later action of the scribal tradition to choose one of them to dominate. This doesn’t seem to be exactly what Providential Preservation had in mind.

That does bring me back to my analogy to Euclid’s Elements, though. People who have taught math for centuries have found Euclid useful. Similarly, those who taught ethics as discussed in the Hebrew Scriptures have found the Masoretic Tradition to be useful, even to the point that they stopped copying and using the other traditions.

This is where I need to take a moment to discuss what I mean when I say “conspiracy theory.” Clearly, the normative understanding of the word “conspiracy” requires that it be a plan. If it just happens by happenstance, it’s not really a conspiracy. However, there are times when it sure feels like a conspiracy, even though all the evidence indicates that no one had a plan. There was one time when myself and two other friends all ended up at the same restaurant at the same time a third friend was celebrating his birthday there. Of course we all pretended that we remembered that it was his birthday and that we had received some kind of invitation and that this really was a plan, but in private discussions it was clear that none of us remembered and none of us had an invitation and none of us had intended this in any way.

When I say that something is a conspiracy theory, I don’t mean that it’s a theory about a secretive plan. That’s the etymology of the term, but lots of terms outgrow their etymology. What I mean is a theory where the absence of supporting evidence is itself taken as evidence that the theory is more complete. If my friends and I had admitted that we are, in fact, horrible human beings that don’t remember each other’s birthdays, and the birthday boy had taken this as proof that we had organized the whole thing and coordinated our stories, that would have been a conspiracy theory. However, even if he had taken it as evidence that we each individually intended to surprise him without a plan among us, it would still have been a conspiracy theory, at least the way I use the term.

There is a theory in textual circles that fits both versions of a conspiracy theory, though. That theory is that the Jewish people corrupted the Hebrew Bible. Various versions of this theory include removing the deuterocanonical books, changing important readings, or destroying the manuscripts that matched the Greek and Samaritan editions. There’s no evidence of this, and in certain circles the lack of evidence is taken as evidence that the corruptors were so thorough as to even remove the evidence. I find the optimism of these people regarding the ability of people to work together so endearing and I hate to burst their bubble. However, the human condition is that when people work like that, there are almost always defectors. One need not look any further than the story of Iron Mike Malloy to see this in action. Even with the incentive of a substantial sum of money, conspirators couldn’t keep quiet about their conspiracy.

The evidence we have is not that there was a group that had the authority to destroy heretical Hebrew Bibles the world over. Rather, the evidence is that more and more teachers found the same readings of the Hebrew Bible useful over and over and copied them more and more and other readings less and less.

This doesn’t indicate that these readings were the original readings originally penned by Isaiah, Daniel, or Matthew. We have already seen that in the first century, the Hebrew Bible existed in multiple forms, and the Samaritan and Greek traditions are all that currently remain of some of those readings. There are even reasons to believe that sometimes these other versions are windows into the original text. In the Greek New Testament, we actually see that text criticism has come in two flavors which can be very roughly and imprecisely equated to Providential Preservation and Deliberate Preservation. The Majority Text position holds that the traditional text of the Greek New Testament is in fact the original text of the Greek New Testament. In stark contrast, the Critical Text position holds that the original text of the Greek New Testament is the inspired version in contrast to the Traditional/Majority Text. Someone like me, who thinks that in some places the Critical Text is closer to the letters that the Apostles put on the page and the Majority Text is closer to what God wants us to believe, are rare. The Majority Text position doesn’t explicitly hold that the text represented by the majority of manuscripts is preserved by God, but it definitely says that the text is preserved. This was the position that was mostly justified by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls for the Old Testament. The Critical Text position holds that the text diversified quickly and it’s hard to identify which is original. This position was also justified by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

No matter which method of text criticism an editor uses, they’ll usually start with a manuscript or two as their primary source. One of the reasons for this is simplicity: it’s easier to copy one manuscript and compare against that than to build each reading as you go. But there are also questions of style that need to be considered and are really a scribes choice. Do we write our numbers out or use numeric abbreviations? How do we spell a particular name? So on. The Critical Greek New Testaments often start with Codex Sinaiticus, the Majority Text New Testaments start with something in the Kr family of manuscripts. In my creation of the Masoretic Matthew, I’ve started with Hebrew Manuscript 132 from the National Library of Paris. However, I’m also marking differences that represent a sort of “majority Hebrew Matthew” reading, using the qure reading system that the Maorites pioneered. Personally, I think this is what the qure reading system was created for: to identify more reliable readings without betraying the consonants given by their forefathers. If nothing else that I’m doing illustrates my skepticism for the idea of Providential Preservation, this should. Before this project, I always said that it would be too much work to identify the majority Hebrew Matthew reading, but I’ve found the time to do it.

However, there is at least one thing that could be done to change my mind and convince me that Providential Preservation is better. The one who made the Paris Manuscript added a name to the genealogy. I say he added it, but I’m begging the question when I say that, and it may be original. If it is, then it is retained in only or maybe two or three manuscripts. However, that doesn’t have to be the only way the information is maintained. The Jewish community is famous for maintaining genealogies. There was a story in the fifth century that people were able to confirm that both the genealogies of Matthew and Luke were basically correct by talking to living descendants of Joseph. If someone wanted to give powerful evidence in favor of Providential Preservation, they could piggyback on my evidence that Matthew was written in Hebrew with multiple cataloged, traditional genealogies of the descendants of David that confirm that Abner belongs in the genealogy. This would require finding traditional genealogies from people claiming to be descended from David that are independent of either Luke or Matthew and collating the data. Such evidence would not be unassailable by those who were determined to resist Providential Preservation. Alternate theories would include that the one making the manuscript was also part of the genealogy and knew that Abner belongs there. However, for me if external independent data could be corroborated to a small set of manuscripts that preserved that data against the odds, that would go a long way towards establishing that God was active in the preservation of those manuscripts.

So if someone could demonstrate that the genealogy of Matthew matched what was maintained by traditions completely independent of each other, that would be interesting evidence for the special, divine preservation this manuscript of Matthew itself. Then we would have to figure out how that extrapolates to other New Testament books.

I don’t think this search will happen in my lifetime, though. The reason I don’t think it will happen is social economics. If I’m right, then those who are in a position to actually run this kind of search won’t gain anything, no matter which way the search goes. If the search did indicate that there actually is a perfect manuscript of Matthew, it’s still not the manuscript that they’re using. They’ll either lose a chance to prove that Providential Preservation is true, or they’ll prove that it’s true and that they’ve had the wrong source for Matthew all along. The Majority Text position faces a similar problem in biblical studies. All of the top teachers and researchers are Critical Text proponents. If they were to have a debate with a Majority Text proponent and win, then they don’t gain anything. If they had that debate and lost, then it could cost them their reputation.

This is why progress in biblical studies moves at glacial speeds. In my heart, if I could do anything, I would give biblical studies the shot of adrenaline it has so desperately needed since the time of the reformation. As it stands, the hierarchy of biblical studies has more in common with politics than science: assignments are often based more on adherence to or distance from credal statements than externally verifiable, objective discoveries. If I could get people to say that those who make the better prediction get appointments, regardless of conservative or liberal leanings, that would be the progress that I would want to see and the progress that would revolutionize the field. I only wish that I could live to see such a thing happen.

What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (2018)

I lived through the era of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. These shows redefined what Star Trek meant, the uniforms, the ships, the aesthetic, and the culture all changed from the original 1960’s era television show to a robust and modern science fiction series. I was in highschool for most of Deep Space Nine‘s run. It touched on themes of war, economics, and spirituality. If I ever do a section on television series, I will need to do one on Deep Space Nine.

With the last episode of Deep Space Nine airing in 1999, this documentary was released almost twenty years after the end of that era. Listening to the interviews, it’s amazing how much of the history could be established with relative certainty. All history is a matter of probability, but all of the actors, writers, directors, and crew had essentially the same stories with only a few exceptions. The relationships and bonds that they had built then often remained strong because of the shared experiences.

Watching things like this, it amazes me that people think that the Gospels must have been written by people with faulty memories. I’m very much in favor of discussing the style and delivery of each individual writer. That’s different from saying that they didn’t know what they were writing, though. If a bunch of actors can remember what happened on the set of a television show twenty years later, I have no doubt that the apostles could remember Jesus and his teaching twenty years later. There’s times when the actors couldn’t get it all figured out or put a lot of spin on a particular story, but in the case of the gospels we have the others to compare with and build a case for what’s real and what has a different layer of meaning.

Mesoretic Matthew: Why Paris Manuscript 132 and not the Shem Tob Text of Matthew?

It’s easy for someone that doesn’t know me to assume that the reason an amateur like myself will make a Bible translation is to make one that’s better than any of the other available translations on the market. I think that’s a fool’s errand. When most mainstream translations are made these days, they are the work of a committee. The committee ensures that the doctrinal or linguistic quirks of any one individual will not overshadow the efforts of the whole. If this were the only reason to think that the commercial translations are superior to a translation made by one amateur translator, then I would rest my case confident that this was enough. But there’s more. The mainstream translations are done by people who have their Phds in relevant fields of study like linguistics or Greek or theology, working full time on the project of translating. I’m a stay at home dad translating a few words between getting snacks for the kids and sweeping the floor. If you’re really counting on me to produce some kind of mystically superior translation that will reveal dark secrets never before seen in the two thousand years of church history, then I think you may have deeper issues than I’m equipped to handle through a blog post.

That’s why I’m doing two simultaneous translation projects. One of them, my Open Source Translation, will be a fresh translation to contemporary English from my preferred sources. This version will always be available for free, for a lot of the reasons sighted above. It’s an amateur translation done by one man who is self taught doing his best. The other, my Corrected King James Version, will be an Elizabethan English minimum-changes-necessary alteration of the King James Version to match my preferred sources. I consider the Corrected King James to be the superior of the two, since I am simply adding my voice as an editor to the dozens of well educated and intelligent voices originally involved in the translation process. The Corrected King James will be my personal go-to translation once it is completed. Currently, the first edition is my primary translation for study. I don’t alter anything in the King James Version just because I disagree with it. I only alter it if there is a source text difference, and then I alter it as little as possible to match my source. Because the Corrected King James will be a superior translation to the Open Source Translation, I have no moral concerns about making it available at a moderate cost. If your only goal is to see how my preferred sources compare to your favorite translation, that’s what the Open Source Translation is there for. If you agree with my source decisions and want a higher level translation to use as your main source text that follows my sources, that’s what the Corrected King James is for. As always, deep study that doesn’t go to the source text of any passage will involve comparing multiple translations and understudying why they treat a passage differently when and where they do.

It’s natural to ask at this point, “If his goal isn’t a translation that’s somehow superior to every other transition, then what is his goal?” This is easy: I want to have a translation from the most divine possible sources. In some sense, this is more of a text-critical concern than a translation concern. For some people, the goal of Textual Criticism is to get to the original text of the New Testament. For others, the goal is to find the New Testament that the church has always used. I have problems with both approaches. For me, if the original authors got anything wrong in their original editions, I want the version that God has extracted those errors from. If the church has corrupted anything that the original authors got right, I want the version that existed before those corruptions.

One of the things that I looked at when pursuing these goals was how wisdom is built in other fields, especially other metaphysical fields such as mathematics. There are very few important books for which we have a complete history of their publication where we find that they were published once and only once in their final form. Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, for example, was published in three editions through Newton’s life, with updates and corrections at each edition. A modern re-publication of the Principia will pull from each of these, but primarily from the last. Even before the printing press, works like Augustine’s City of God were known to have been released and edited at various points in the author’s life. Some people have thought that this might apply to Matthew, that the tradition of a Hebrew original is actually a Hebrew first edition, and that the Greek text is the final version. Josephus apparently did this with some of his works. I think that the testimony of the early fathers is rather that Matthew wrote in Hebrew and then others translated it into Greek. But I’ll approach the question of a possible inspired translation in a bit.

As a text of deep study is republished, refined, used for teaching, and criticized, future editions tend to crystallize around central topics. For some documents, for example Euclid’s Elements, this final received version is substantially the same as the original. For others, such as the Principia, the original gets abandoned in favor of more complete explorations of the topic. There are many homeschooling and small school groups that will use a version of Elements for their Geometry and Algebra curriculum. Almost no one uses the Principia as a textbook, seeing it more as a historical text. If we were to suppose that the number line had whispered into the ear of an early mathematician to give a text that was useful for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in mathematical thinking, then the results would be something like we see with Euclid’s Elements, not what we see with the Principia. Even if inspiration is more a matter of observation than whispers of truth, this is what we see building truth in many fields. For example, if a witness wrote a document about an important person from what they had experienced, then future students of that important person would be able to tell how well the witness knew them by how closely the witness’s words matched their other studies of that important person. If what the witness said systematically matched up with other data historians collected about the subject, they would keep coming back to those writings to learn about the subject. This pattern is very much what we see with the Biblical documents and the study of God and with Elements and the study of mathematics. If historians who studied the subject kept finding inconsistencies or unhelpful ambiguities in the witness’s writings, future historians would find ways to restate what’s useful and mostly ignore the work otherwise. This is the pattern we see in the Principia and the Gnostic Gospels. I was once asked why God had inspired a bunch of history books and not a math book. After thinking about it, my answer was and remains that maybe God did inspire a math book. Euclid’s acceptance very much mirrors the acceptance of the biblical books. However, I still wouldn’t put Euclid in the Bible, because it’s not an instruction in righteousness, as 2 Timothy tells us scripture ought to be.

With the idea that I will pursue the most divine works in their most divine form, I started looking into the origins and development of the New Testament texts. The biblical documents lie just beyond the horizon of documents for which we can accurately track their origin and early development. There are some documents in the second and third centuries where we can get a sense of how they were developed, but it’s really the fifth and sixth century that we start to get detailed contemporary analysis of the development of documents en masse. We have no good reason to think that the process was substantially different in the first century then the sixth, though. In a lot of ways, the process wouldn’t change substantially until the advent of computers. Even in more modern eras, we don’t have complete documentation about how every single book was made. Comic book creator Stan Lee admitted that he didn’t have a detailed recollection of how he created some of his iconic characters, particularly Spider-Man.

Here is where I need to admit some of my personal biases. When I was growing up, my dad’s family was primarily Jehovah’s Witnesses and my mom’s family was primarily Mormons. I had well studied examples in both groups close at hand. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are very much against the Textus Receptus, and put a lot of focus on the work of Westcott and Hort. Westcott and Hort were famous for dismantling the textual theories that gave us the Textus Receptus in favor of the oldest readings of New Testament documents. The Mormoms are very much into the thought that the Bible cannot be read and understood in the original languages, and the original text is inaccessible. In my heart of hearts, by the way I was raised, I very naturally fall into the feeling that the effort to restore the original text of the Biblical text to a level of certainty is a fool’s errand. This feeling can be strengthened by the thought that there is more agreement between later New Testament manuscripts than among the earlier New Testament manuscripts. When no one is looking especially hard, I’m the worst Hortian. (Even though, as I will discuss momentarily, I’ve been impressed by the arguments against my gut and I try to always remember to speak and write in cooperation with that evidence, not against it.) I have a lot of sympathy for text critics like Dr. Bart Ehrman and others, who say that we can restore the biblical text to a very significant degree but not exactly. For me, that’s fine. I’m going to work with what I have, whatever that happens to be. I’m not going to put a lot of thought into what I wish I had unless I think I can find a way to get it. That much said, I also recognize that as someone saying the original text can’t be restored, my primary role is to get out of the way of those that are doing it.

There certainly have been people who have worked at doing it, too. I’ve already mentioned Westcott and Hort. Their reconstruction was based on the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament. I’ve mentioned the Textus Receptus. This traditional text descended from the work of Erasmus operates on the understanding that the traditional readings of the New Testament in the western church must be original, preserved by the Holy Spirit. Between these two extremes stand the various Majority Text theories, which hold that the majority of New Testament manuscripts are going to tend to match the original documents. Of course, I’m giving a grossly oversimplified version of each theory here, but even with that you can clearly see that all of these theories make a certain kind of sense on the face of it. I’m an evidentialist, though. If someone makes a claim with a prediction, and the opposite side makes an opposite prediction, then the one with the more accurate prediction gets more weight in my future exploration of the subject. This is how a lot of hard sciences have processed new thoughts since the early nineteenth century. It has proven to be a very reliable wisdom building technique.

Which brings us to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Old Testament textual critics could be placed along a line from conservative to liberal, with the conservative extreme being that the text of the Masoretic Tradition would be the same as we would find if we could travel back to the first century, and the liberal extreme suggesting any number of hypothetical alternate readings that would be shown to be real if we could go back to the first century. The Dead Sea Scrolls allowed us to actually test those hypotheses. The findings were not the most conservative version of the theory, but they were very much more to the conservative end than the then-contemporary scholarship. There were a surprising number of Hebrew manuscripts of Old Testament books that matched either the Samaritan or Septuagint readings from the Old Testament. However, by far the majority of biblical quotes and books matched the Masoretic Traditional text.

I found this out right about the same time I found the research of Dr. Mourice Robinson, which made the case that the more conservative approach to Textual Criticism made the most sense for the New Testament as well. I was and still am suspicious about something as extreme as the Textus Receptus, but the Majority Text edition of Drs. Robinson and Pierpont drew me in. If we were to place the New Testament original text theories I described above into the same line I described for the pre Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship, then the Textus Receptus would represent the most extreme conservative end, Westcott and Hort would represent a moderately liberal approach, and the Majority Text would be the kind of moderately conservative approach that was vindicated by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This gives a good, evidence based reason to prefer the traditional, majority text as the best source text of the New Testament. It does leave open the thought of an inspired translation, though, and that became relevant when I discovered the early church quotes about Matthew being written in Hebrew. If there could be an inspired translation of the original Hebrew edition of Matthew, then it could be that the New Testament was inspired as a single, Greek document. If the New Testament documents were inspired individually and the original text of each document is to be preferred, then I would want to pursue the original text of Matthew in Hebrew, not the Greek translation.

To test the idea of an inspired translation, I first turned to the book of Daniel. In Daniel we have something unique: a Greek text which superseded the Septuagint translation in church use. This superior Greek text of Daniel was produced by Theodotian in the late first century. Jesus tells us that his sheep hear his voice. (John 10:27) If there were an inspired translation, it might have this kind of draw. What I found was that biblical interpreters (for example, Jerome and Origin) who had access to both the Hebrew and the Greek preferred the Hebrew. But there’s more. The “Book of Daniel” isn’t one unified book. It’s actually several shorter documents joined together. Chapter 1 is an introduction to the book written in Hebrew. Each of Chapters 2 and 3 are separate stories about the adventures of Daniel and his friends, and in the Mesoretic tradition these come to us in Aramaic. Chapter 4 is a letter from King Nebuchadnezzar written in Aramaic. Chapter 5 is another adventure of Daniel, written in Aramaic. Chapter 6 is the final adventure of Daniel, also written in Aramaic. The rest of the book is a collection of Daniel’s visions, all written in Hebrew, but they’re not particularly relevant to what I’m about to say. What if I were to tell you that I think Daniel chapter 3 was originally written in Greek? Chapter 3 is the only chapter to contain Greek loan words. It could be a later addition to the narrative of Daniel’s life, written in Greek, and then translated to Aramaic and shortened. Something that is interesting is that chapter 3 is also the only chapter to have a significantly different text in the Greek edition. The Prayer of Azariah is included in the Greek version of chapter 3, but not the Aramaic. I find it interesting that many prominent Church Fathers mention or quote from this prayer, plus two other stories added to the Greek version of Daniel: Susana and Bel. Even the church fathers like Jerome and Origin that generally prefer the Hebrew/Aramaic edition of Daniel make use of these Greek additions. For example, this prayer is noted in Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel, even though it only exists in Greek and Jerome generally preferred the Aramaic original for the Old Testament. However, it makes no sense for chapter 5 to be originally in Greek, as the story makes use of the Hebrew/Aramaic alphabet and their use in words in those languages. It seems like even in a book that we are accustomed to thinking of as a single text, individual components can be broken out and chased down to probable origins, and it seems clear that even in those components it’s the original that Christ’s sheep are drawn to whether they realize it or not.

Then I turned to the book of Esther. The Greek version of Esther is longer and more religious than the Hebrew version. I was amazed to discover that, even among Greek speaking Church Fathers who didn’t know anything about the Hebrew original, the vast majority of the quotes from the Book of Esther among the highest importance Church Fathers came from the portions of Esther that are in the Hebrew original, with very few quotes from the additions.

The obvious inference was that the original language of a particular document is the preferred language for that document. In theory, I’m still open to the idea of an inspired translation, but an inspired translation has to provide evidence that the original is borrowing inspiration from the translation. This could not be proven by numbers (there are more Vulgate manuscripts than original language manuscripts in either Hebrew or Greek) or popularity (the Vulgate was the most popular Bible world wide for centuries) but by some sort of unseen pressure, similar to the pressure we see pushing God’s people to prefer the original portions of Esther or the additions to Daniel even when the interpreters were unaware of it.

As I pressed on the theory more and more, I discovered more and more evidence that Matthew was written in Hebrew, as I showed a few weeks ago. One family of Hebrew Matthew manuscripts shows a decent probability of descending from that original. To be fair, I can’t “prove” that this family descends from the original document from Matthew’s pen. It could, theoretically, be a back-translation from the Greek, Latin, and/or Syriac versions of Matthew. It could also be that the Hebrew version of Esther or Daniel that we have is a back-translation from the Greek, and we would have no way to “prove” otherwise. Almost any evidence that would support the idea that the version of Daniel or Esther that we have in the Mesoretic tradition is descended from the original would apply equally well to the family of Hebrew manuscripts for Matthew containing the version of Matthew contained in Shem Tob’s Even Bohen, Paris Manuscript 132 donated by Jean DuTillet, and the Hebrew Matthew transcribed by Sebastian Münster. There is only one piece of evidence that this family lacks that the Mesoretic tradition of Daniel and Esther have in their favor: the tradition of scribal continuity from the original. However, the Greek edition of Matthew claims to descend from a Hebrew original, so it doesn’t have that either.

What I call the SDM family (for Shem Tob, DuTillet, and Münster) of Hebrew Matthew manuscripts has a number of things that recommend it as being descended from a document originally from Matthew’s pen. First, the text of Greek Matthew often follows the Greek of either Mark or Luke so closely that it is obviously not a coincidence. This betrays that the Greek edition of Matthew was made later, when the translator was already aware of both Luke and Mark. (As I will explain in more detail in a few weeks, this doesn’t “solve” the Synoptic Problem. It does make it more interesting, though.) This gets more compelling when we notice, for example, that Greek Matthew and Hebrew Matthew have the Apostles listed in a different order in Matthew 10, and the first half of the list mirrors Luke in the Greek edition, but not the Hebrew edition. The idea that the Greek was made later with the translator being aware of the other Synoptics explains this. The SDM prototype being a back translation doesn’t explain this.

I didn’t discover the SDM family of Hebrew Matthew. I found a book about them by the late Dr. George Howard, and then pursued more information about them through interlibrary loans, Google Books, and personal study. While I personally have come to prefer Manuscript 132 from the National Library of Paris, Dr. Howard preferred the text of Matthew embedded in Even Bohen. This difference can be summed up by putting Dr. Howard in the moderately liberal direction of the Textual Criticism spectrum and me in the moderately conservative direction. Not only is Even Bohen originally older than the Paris Manuscript, even individual existing manuscripts of Even Bohen are older than the Paris Manuscript. The liberal arm of New Testament Textual Criticism almost always prefers the oldest text available. The conservative arm generally prefers the text that most closely aligns with the usage of the church over the ages, which the Paris Manuscript does. In fact, I think that either the Paris Manuscript or it’s immediate predecessor was used in some sort of church service. There are marked section breaks in the text at various points, and they often have a liturgical significance. For example, the Lord’s Prayer is bracketed by these section breaks.

At this point, someone is scratching their head. Didn’t I say before that my natural inclination is to think that restoring the original text is a fool’s errand and that I was naturally skeptical of the conservative end of biblical restoration? Wouldn’t this be the perfect opportunity to “follow my heart” and prefer a text that is older even though it doesn’t match the traditional text? Perhaps, but as I also said, I’m primarily an evidentialist. I prefer to first follow the evidence. The first piece of evidence that jumps out at me when I look at the text of Matthew that Dr. Howard extracted from Even Bohen is that Shem Tob doesn’t show any particular interest in preserving Matthew. His goal was to combat his Christian accusers, and Matthew was a tool in that end. This is why, for example, Shem Tob inserts Mark 9:23-28 in place of Matthew 17:18 and why Shem Tob adds the Greek word “Antichrist” to Matthew 24:15. We also see that at a couple places in the Sermon on the Mount the text continues with some version of “And Jesus also said…” (6:2 and 16.) In those cases, they are chapter breaks in Even Bohen, and it might not have been Shem Tob’s intention to imply that they were part of the Gospel, but the fact that he makes no particular effort to distinguish these remarks from the authentic text of the Gospel just goes to show how little he was interested in preserving Matthew for us.

The other piece of evidence comes from the text preserved by Münster. Münster preserves a text that is in the same family as the Paris Manuscript and Shem Tob’s Matthew. The text of the Lord’s Prayer, the order of Apostles in Chapter 10, the proclamation that Jesus will baptize by the fire of the Spirit as opposed to the Spirit and fire, and the general consistency in word choice and order all testify that these three editions of Matthew are in the same family.  There are times where the text of Shem Tob and the Paris Manuscript agree with each other for a stretch of several phrases against the Münster’s text. There are also times when Münster’s text and the Paris Manuscript agree for phrases at a time against Münster’s text. However, when Münster and Shem Tob agree against the Paris Manuscript, it is always one or two words, or an omission in the Paris Manuscript that is included in Shem Tob’s version, Münster’s version, and it’s often also in the Greek edition of the Majority Text.

Every edition of every New Testament book begins with one manuscript or previous edition as its primary text. In the Greek New Testament of Westcott and Hort or Nestle and Aland, the primary text is Codex Sinaiticus, corrected against the Codex Vaticanus, with sprinkled other corrections throughout. In the Majority Text editions the base text will most often be something from the Kr family, corrected against other manuscripts in the family and majority readings sprinkled throughout according to their particular algorithm. When I see that both the Shem Tob and the Münster texts seem to normally stray from an original that looked most like the Paris Manuscript, this tells me that the Paris Manuscript is the most faithful copy of Matthew from this family.

This is not the same as saying that I think the Paris Manuscript is identical to the text that Matthew originally wrote. I’m going to go into this in a little more detail next week, but this is the point where a healthy dose of Textual Criticism could come into play. I would be very interested in a complete critical edition of the SDM family of Matthew, but I don’t have the time to make one myself right now. Such a critical edition would need, at a minimum, a base text based in one of the manuscripts from this family with minor corrections, all variant readings from every cataloged edition in this family, variant readings from the Greek Majority Text, Nestle Aland Greek Text, the Sixtine Vulgate, and the Neo Vulgate as they would appear in Hebrew. Including variants from the Peshitta and Old Syriac would also be preferred, but at some point it’s fair for the critic to point out that he who complains first does it next, and I’m not volunteering for this project. I’m just pointing out that if it doesn’t have the minimum I’ve mentioned here, then I’m better off with the Mesoretic Matthew I’m making and my Quick Bible app.

As I noted above, the findings have found that the moderately conservative approach to Textual Criticism is probably pretty accurate most of the time. Turns out that scribes do a pretty good job of preserving the text in front of them when that’s what they intend to do. If I were to rip Bible verses out of context and force them into directives for textual criticism based on what I’ve found, it would be these:

  • Deuteronomy 19:15b “at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.”
  • Proverbs 11:14 “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.”

I’m a little hesitant to alter the text that I have into a new document. Luckily for me, the Maorites left us with tools that allow us to mark alternate readings without altering the text. In the rare instance that the Paris Manuscript stands alone in adding text, I will mark those with Mesorah dots. In the cases where the alternate reading is preferred by both Shem Tob and Münster, I’ll mark a qure reading in a footnote. If all three manuscripts from SDM diverge, then I will follow whichever is closest to the Greek Majority Text, with a preference for the Paris Manuscript. If both Shem Tob and Münster have a text that Paris skipped over, or either Shem Tob or Münster include a text that is also included in the Majority Text but skipped in the Paris Manuscript, I’ll add that as a reading enclosed in reverse nuns. If it’s only in the Majority Text, or only in Shem Tob, or only in Münster, I won’t add it. This will give me the ability to see both what was preserved in the manuscript and a sort of majority Hebrew reading of Matthew at a glance. My primary translation will translate the text of Paris Manuscript 132, but the footnotes will also include the Majority Text Greek reading, the Nestle Aland Greek reading, the qure “majority Hebrew” reading, and note which words or phrases are completely unique to the Paris Manuscript.

One last note that I’m going to bring in, the Paris Manuscript has a subtle alteration to the genealogy of Jesus. It adds the name “Abner” between Abiud and Eliakim. This addition has caught the minds and imagination of thinkers like Stephen Carlson in 2014, Hugh Schofield in 1927, Arthur Hervey in 1853, Samuel Davidson in 1843, Adam Clark in 1817, and Barrett in 1807. As I said before, I’m skeptical that Abner is original since it only appears in one or possibly two manuscripts, but the fact that this point draws in so many readers and that there are so few substantial differences between this manuscript and the Greek edition of Matthew causes me to wonder if this could be another example of Christ’s sheep hearing the whispers of Christ’s voice from this place and trying desperately to link what their heart hears to what the rest of us deaf and dumb farm animals can only imagine. It’s a bit of a stretch, but until Dr. Howard, the vast majority of interest in a possible Hebrew Matthew did tend to gravitate to the Paris Manuscript even when they weren’t looking at the genealogy.

So to tie it up in a neat little package, I think that an original text document is more likely to be more divine than a translation. I see evidence that Matthew was originally in written in Hebrew. I see evidence that the SDM family has things that make it more likely to descend directly from Matthew’s pen. Finally, I see patterns of the Paris Manuscript that place it as the best, middle text between the other witnesses in that family. 

Super Mario Bros. (1993) Street Fighter (1994) Mortal Kombat (1995) Rampage (2018) Mortal Kombat (2021) Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) Uncharted (2022) Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)

I’ve spoken before several times about how hard it is to get a good Christian movie. We’ve had a few small steps in the direction of good movies with Christian themes, but they never seem to quite stick the landing. In a way, it’s forgivable, though: Hollywood obviously isn’t trying to make Christian movies. In that way, there’s a community that’s had it even worse than Christians: Gamers.

I was beside myself with glee when they announced the Super Mario Bros. movie when I was fifteen. Before I graduated highschool, I would learn to meet similar announcements with skepticism. At the time, I was a bit of a gamer. Not a hard core gamer, but I played the main titles in the Super Mario series and Zelda and I’d go to friends’ houses to play Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. (We were a Nintendo family, and let’s face facts, fighting games were always better on Sega.) I loved playing Rampage and Dig Dug and Ms Pac-Man at the arcade in the local Sunshine Pizza. I grew into WarCraft and StarCraft and Descent. I dabbled a little with Diablo and Master of Orion, but I lost interest in those titles after the first one in each series. Diablo was just Cattle of the Winds with better graphics in real time, after all. And there were certain things about the story of Castle of the Winds that were done better. But that’s not really what I’m here to discuss. 

By the time I was in my late twenties, I was losing interest in games. I’m not sure if the industry changes brought on by Massively Multiplayer Online gaming left me behind, or if I just outgrew them. (I highly suspect the former. I have a bit of Peter Pan syndrome, and it would be rather unprecedented for me to outgrow anything.) The only two games I have installed on my phone now are Plants vs Zombies and Duolingo.

Be that as it may, I still feel a kind of kinship with gamers. I feel bad for them every time another bad movie comes out based on a game. It’s hard loving something and seeing it butchered by people who obviously don’t.

When I heard the announcement that Sonic was being turned into a movie, I cringed. My Facebook post the day the first trailer came out shivered at the thought that it would be another Super Mario Bros. I wanted to just close my eyes and let it wash over me and skip to the part where we don’t ever talk about it ever again. I hadn’t recovered from the latest “attempt” at Mortal Kombat. I mean, even the 1995 take on Mortal Kombat was better than the 2021 take, and we don’t talk about the 1995 attempt.

Then I heard that Jim Carrey was playing Dr. Robotnik. I saw the previews. Then they did something I never expected: when fans complained about how Sonic looked, they delayed opening to fix it. That made me think that this might be different.

It was. I can’t even explain how. If I could go back and explain what was on the screen to 2019 me, then that innocent version of me would be convinced that it was going to be bad. The movie is set on Earth, but Sonic is an alien. The rings are used for transportation, not power or currency. The best thing about the movie is Jim Carrey… but not by much. The Echidnas are mentioned but only in passing. Sonic is goofy and way over powered. Robotnik is Tony Stark Jr. Robotnik never flys. It shouldn’t work!

But it does! And I credit the acting, directing, writing, special effects, music, and animation teams… or to put it another way, everyone involved in the movie.

Then Uncharted came out. I was not familiar with the Uncharted games, so it was a surprise to discover that it was based on a PlayStation game. It filled my heart with dread the moment that splashed across the screen in the theater. My fear was unwarranted. The movie was fantastic!

I hope this is a sign that Hollywood is getting their feet under them when it comes to movies based on games. I hope they can do the same thing with Christian movies someday.

Mesoretic Matthew: On Tranlating Parallel Passages in Parallel

There are four gospels, but they tell one story and each gospel is complete in itself. That means there’s a lot of overlap between the four, and in particular between the first three. The fact that there is so much overlap between the first three has earned them the name “Synoptic.”

When you’re reading the Greek versions of the Synoptic Gospels, the level of verbal agreement between the three is sometimes staggering. It’s pretty obvious that they are drawing from common sources. However, it has been my casual observation that this degree of agreement seems to mostly be between Matthew and Mark or Matthew and Luke. When you compare Mark to Luke, the degree of verbal agreement goes way down, and where there’s a triple tradition Matthew will sometimes follow Mark and sometimes follow Luke.

I think that this reveals that the translator that translated Matthew from Hebrew to Greek was aware of Mark and Luke. I come to the conclusion that Matthew wrote in Hebrew by other means, but the idea that Matthew wrote in Hebrew does have bearing on the Two-Source Hypothesis. In the typical telling of the Two-Source Hypothesis, Mark was written first, then Matthew and Luke copied from Mark. There are certain things that Matthew wouldn’t have been likely to have written if he read Luke, and likewise things that Luke wouldn’t have written if he had read Matthew. There’s nothing in Mark that would preclude either Matthew or Luke from writing their text, though. As one clear example, the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke don’t agree, so if one were reading the other you would expect the one written second to copy the genealogy they had in front of them. There’s no genealogy in Mark to get confused by, though. That conversation does get much more nuanced. It’s not just that the genealogies are different. The teaching that Matthew sets on a mountain (The Sermon on the Mount) is largely mirrored in a sermon on the plain in Luke. Again, you’d expect whichever were written second to copy their source if one used the other as a source. Yet at times, the verbal agreement in the Greek between Greek Matthew and Luke is striking.

There are also places where Matthew, Mark, and Luke set the pattern of the quote in a way that betrays a common source. For example, in the story of the paralytic recorded in all three synoptics, Jesus turns to speak to the paralytic at the exact same moment in the story.

This says to me that there has to have been at least three sources: one having a distinctly Mathean approach, another having a distinctly Lukean approach, and one with the shared material. One says that Jesus gave a sermon on a mountain and the other says it was on a plain, and both Matthew and Luke filled this teaching in with what they knew from a third source or from memory or something like that. Mark either was or drew from one of these sources. None of these ideas are altered by seeing that Matthew was written in Hebrew. Even the thought that Matthew drew from Mark isn’t in danger: if Mark can quote sections of the Old Testament that were originally in Hebrew in his Greek text, there’s nothing to stop a Hebrew original of Matthew from using a Greek source.

However, with Matthew being in Hebrew, and in particular if I’m right and the level of verbal agreement is striking particularly between Matthew and the other two, it makes for a lot more options about what the two sources could have been. Matthew and Luke being the two sources still seem to me to be off the table, and Mark being one of the sources is very much still on the table. However, if the verbal agreement between Mark and Luke really is more circumstantial, this would be true almost by definition in the Hebrew original of Matthew. With that being the case, it’s entirely possible that the two or three sources are two charismatic teachers giving oral teaching, or two separate Aramaic documents, or a wide range of other thoughts.

At this point, this is mostly speculation, though. For 2022, I’m going to make refreshing my Corrected King James and Open Source translations of Matthew my priority. As I’m doing that, I’m also marking the Eusebian Sections for all five Gospel editions (Mark, Luke, John, and both Hebrew and Greek Matthew) so that I can very quickly lay out a parallel edition of the Gospels in 2023 and start the process of comparing these texts as I translate the other gospels. This will allow me to fine tune the theory with data, and make a much more refined declaration on how that likely played out.

Another advantage to marking out parallel passages will come out when I get around to finishing up the Open Source Translation of the other gospels next year. Where the Greek of the Gospels line up, as long as it’s compatible with the Hebrew of Matthew, I think there is a value in making the translation line up as well. The problem is, when you’re translating independently, it’s easy to forget that you’ve seen this before. I’ve been told that there are cases where my current translation of Matthew uses synonyms for the same word at various places, but the ones who have complained about it have not been so kind as to tell me where. I’ve taken certain precautions to avoid that in the current translation that I’m making, but even things like word order or tenses can vary a little by the translator’s mood. If I’m translating the parallel passages at the same time, then I’m more likely to be in the same mood when I do them. This will help me and anyone else reading the text in English to see where these parallels are very strong and where they are weaker.

The Bad Guys (2022)

What does it take to be good? What does it take to be bad? This movie explores that question in a comedic style that really hits home.

The titular gang is composed of The Big Bad Wolf, Mr. Snake, Ms. Tarantula (also called Webbs) and Mr. Shark. These are seen by the world as irredeemably evil. Let’s face it, it works. Very few of us see a snake or a shark and think about its safety and comfort. My own sense of storytelling finds it odd that these and a small set of other characters are actually animals where the vast majority of the population are normal people, but it’s a style and I respect it.

Through the movie, the characters struggle with what it means to be bad. They’ve built their entire identity on the concept that they’re bad and there’s nothing they could do differently. Then Mr. Wolf gets a taste of doing good.

One of the things that I really liked about this movie is that even after getting a taste of “the good life,” Wolf doesn’t turn over a new leaf and instantly become the good guy. He starts chasing the feeling that he felt when he did good. And this is the point that I want to address: doing good doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes, doing good feels downright bad. We see an example of this the first time that Dr. Marmalade gives Snake a push-pop to share with Shark. Snake manages to share, only to be teased for it. He doesn’t feel good, he feels humiliated. So he takes the push-pop back and eats it to regain a feeling of control.

Sometimes doing bad feels good. The gang shows pride and feelings of accomplishment at their ability to pull off heists. They feel good about being bad, and their initial exploration of doing good feels bad.

So that brings up a great question: how can we know what is good, if we can’t trust our feelings to lead the way? I think Webbs hits the nail on the head later in the movie when Snake comforts Shark by giving him a push-pop. Snake is again teased for doing good, and this time he says, “I just saw that my friend was hurt and put his needs before my own.” Webbs replies, “That’s literally the definition of doing good.”

So often we fall into the trap of thinking that doing good is about following rules. Proper moral rules should be there as a guideline to how we can give up for ourselves in order to help others. When following a rule goes against that goal, then it is immoral to follow the rule. It’s not always practical for us to know all the ways that everything we do will impact everyone. So we need rules that tell us what to do in each case when we don’t know what the impact will be. It takes a certain amount of humility to admit that, no matter how strongly they believe something, anyone could be wrong.

I think this movie does a great job of highlighting the difference between doing good and feeling good, while acknowledging that doing good often feels good and can work as an early motivation for doing good. I also love that the gang doesn’t escape conviction just by deciding to go good. Even after they’ve decided to go good, they still pay for the consequences for their crimes. Even though the movie deals in kid terms, it doesn’t sugar coat the realities of dealing with your own evil. So often, it’s easy to write these stories so that the protagonists go good, and then everything starts coming up daisies. That’s not real life, and it’s good to see a story handle that.

I really enjoyed this movie, and I highly suggest that you see it with your kids when you get the chance.

Mesoretic Matthew: What are the Eusebian Tables?

Verse and chapter divisions weren’t added to the Bible until the middle ages. The current numbering system was born out of the needs that printing Bibles in mass quantities produced. When each church had only one or two Bibles and no one had one of their own, readings for the week could be marked out ahead of time and the reader could be carefully instructed where to begin and where to end reading the text. Once everyone had their own copy of the Bible in their lap, it was only natural to want to follow along. Being told, “Today’s reading comes from Matthew,” is not very helpful in narrowing down where to begin and end your reading today. Everything that has a purpose can be put into use in at least two other purposes, though, and it wasn’t long before scholarly discussion of the Bible resorted to marking references to the Bible by chapter and verse as well.

That doesn’t mean that there was no need to mark parallel passages between the gospels before the middle ages. Going back to ancient times, Christians have noticed that the Gospels have the same stories and very closely related stories scattered throughout them. Before the printing press, the only thing that scholars needed to do was to reference the same stories in different gospels, though. It was this need that led to the creation of the Eusebian Tables.

The Eusebian Tables and Eusebian Canons weren’t actually created by Eusebius. He described them in a letter to Carpianus, but they probably existed before him. I’m not convinced by any of the theories that I’ve heard that try to put a name or date on their creation. I think their origin is just beyond our reach to conclusively determine. They might even be a creation that evolved over time. Maybe someone marked where the crucifixion narratives began, then where the birth narratives were, then a few other things before they started numbering them, then finally stretching it all out to as much as they could.

The Eusebian Tables allow us to gain insight into the ways the Gospels interact with each other. This will be crucial for a long term goal related to the Mesoretic Matthew. I believe that taking Matthew from a Hebrew source helps to explain the Synoptic Problem. The degree to which the text of the first three gospels match in the Greek is amazing. Too much to be coincidental. This leads to various forms of the Two-Source Hypothesis, with Mark as the source for Matthew and Luke and Matthew and Luke sharing some other, unknown source. This other source is often abbreviated “Q.”

To be clear, I still believe in a two source hypothesis of sorts. However, my take on it is a little different. I think that Q was oral tradition, and that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were contemporary to each other. I then think that Matthew was translated from Hebrew to Greek by someone who was already familiar with Mark and Luke, and he translated to match in various ways as often as he could. This theory can be shown to some degree by noticing that the first half of the order of Apostles in the Greek edition of Matthew matches Luke, but the Hebrew edition has a different order.

One or two examples do not make the case, though. I’m happy to talk about the issue with what I have, but I’ll feel a lot more confident about the idea after I’ve run a complete comparison across parallel passages of the Synoptic Gospels. I’m not exactly sure what I expect to find, but I know that seeing the text of the apostle lists side-by-side in all three Greek editions and then the Hebrew of Matthew helped me to see the point much more clearly.

At one point, I hoped that this would be part of the 2022 project to make the Maoretic Matthew. I don’t think I’m going to get all three Gospels translated and compared this year, though. This year, I’m going to focus on cleaning up the vowel points, adding in qure readings, and fixing The Corrected King James Version and Open Source Translation versions of Matthew to release second editions. The rest will have to wait until another year or two or three. I am going to add the Eusebian Sections to the Gospel texts, though. All three Synoptic Gospels, and both the Hebrew and Greek editions of Matthew, and John just for completeness. This way I can run the comparisons much more quickly when I do get to them. That will probably take me a few more months to finish adding to all five texts, though.

The Eusebian Tables do have one problem, though: they’re just numbers. Don’t get me wrong, numbers are fine when you’re looking them up. If I tell you to go to Eusebian Section 7 of the Gospel of Matthew, that’s no different than telling you to go to Chapter 3 of the Gospel of Matthew. However, if I tell you that section 8 in Matthew lines up with section 2 of Mark, that doesn’t tell you much. The tables are just tables of numbers. Computers work well with numbers. I don’t.

So I’m using another feature of New Testament Manuscripts to make things easier for me to use, Kephalaia. I’m getting my list of Eusebian Sections and Kephalaia from Nuen Testaments. I don’t read German, so I know next to nothing about the book, but it’s got a list of Kephalaia in Greek and lists the Eusebian Sections. These have a connection to the history of New Testament thought. The Kephalaia were not as uniform among Greek New Testaments as the Eusebian Sections. Because of that, I feel no shame or guilt in saying that I’m appropriating the Kephalaia for my own purposes.

One thing that might surprise the casual reader is that I’m doing these in Greek, not Hebrew. After all, isn’t my whole purpose to produce a Hebrew edition of Matthew? Doesn’t it undermine my whole claim to put Greek section titles in it?

No. My claim is that Matthew was originally in Hebrew. The Kephalaia and the Eusebian Sections are not part of the original. I want to be able to see what’s the same between the Gospels at a glance. The Eusebian Sections allow me to process them quickly and the Kephalaia allow me to read them quickly.

There are also a lot more Eusebian Sections than Kephalaia. There will be some cases where I decide to add a title (which then wouldn’t technically be a Kephalaia, it would be a title of my own invention.) There will probably be some cases where I’m able to use a Kephalaia that’s normally only used in one gospel in other gospels. In cases where I’m doing this, I’ll try to make some kind of note so that the curious student can get back to the original when they’re interested. If a given Kephalaia covers multiple Eusebian Sections then one easy solution will be to number them.

I’m making a Google Sheet to organize the Eusebian Sections and suggested Kephalaia names. I’m going to do them entirely in majuscule letters. If you’re interested in helping me with this project, I’m interested in subcontracting this part out. Let me know and we can see if we can come to a deal.

Father Stu (2022)

This movie hit a lot of solid points for me, and I wish I had time to talk about all of them. Having limited time is why I usually pick one thing to talk about, though.

This movie follows the life of Stewart Long. He was born into an atheist family, raised as an atheist, then later in life converted to Roman Catholicism and went as far as to become a priest.

There’s something that I’ve heard a bunch of times this week leading into the movie that I feel the need to comment on: no one ever converted to Christianity because of the logic of it. We can definitely see this thought played out in the life of Father Stu. He didn’t hear a cosmological or moral argument for the existence of God and become convinced that God exists. It started out as a seduction tactic when he met a girl he wanted to start a relationship with. From there, it moved into a mystical experience after a traffic accident. From there, it became comfort and explanation as he battled disability. At no point was his Christianity a direct result of intellectual study and deep philosophical reflection.

This always reminds me of what I used to say as a teenager: “I’m not a Christian: I believe in the Bible.” This was true in several different ways.

One way that it was true then and remains true today is that I feel no need to toe the Christian line. My only allegiance is to the Truth, and if what church leaders or popular theology say is demonstrably wrong, I have no problems leaving them out to dry. I’ve softened on this point some in my old age and I’m slightly less prone to bite the hand that feeds me now that I’ve been through the wringer a few times, but I still don’t take it well when I see what I perceive as wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Another way this was true was that, even though I read my Bible regularly and read theology and church history books, I was not a member of any Christian body nor did I participate in any Christian rituals or services. My pursuit of Christ was entirely intellectual. This isn’t to say that I didn’t have any mystical experiences. I did. All my mystical experiences were added to the list of evidence that I would count internally, though. Most often, the experiences were categorized as provisional evidence rather than evidence proper. For example, I had a lot of strange dreams. Some were potentially mystical in nature. They’re provisionally evidence, so long as my dreams were as I remembered and the follow up events that matched weren’t coincidental. My primary pursuit of God was and remains intellectual, though.

A third way that this was true was that I wasn’t really aware of Christian culture. I’ve been attending churches for decades now, and I still find Christian culture difficult to navigate. This inexperience and lack of interest in Christian culture has made it difficult for me to make “Church friends.” I loved watching edgy, scary, thoughtful, and exciting shows. It never occurred to me that there could be a difference between Harry Potter and Cinderella, or that one could be okay and the other not. So I talk openly about the shows I’ve seen that aren’t “Christian,” even on my blog and even at church. Since my pursuit of God is primarily intellectual, just being told “We don’t recommend that people in our church see that movie” doesn’t go really far with me.

That’s one of the reasons that I found this movie so refreshing. Father Stu isn’t your usual Sunday-Morning-Christian. More than a few of his seminary classmates are similarly counter-normative representations of Christians in the popular media. Stu tells his ex-girlfriend that he’s not sure he can stay in the seminary and complete his ordination due to his disability. Then, to lighten the mood that he feels has gotten too heavy, he grabs her butt playfully when she hugs him. One of his classmates has been raised from childhood to become a priest, but his first confession to Father Stu after Stu is ordained is that he never wanted to be a priest. The sermons that Father Stu gives are sarcastic, irreverent, and pointed. Like Jesus.

I hope that there can be more movies like this one in the future. We need more movies that share the gritty side of Christianity. I don’t want to see the end of movies that paint a rosy picture of Christianity. There’s room and need for both. But if we took a couple years off those to make a bunch of gritty Christian bio pics about Augustine of Hippo, Padre Pio, Joan d’ Arc, George Mueller, Charles Spurgen, and John Calvin then I would think that was an overall gain for the church as a whole. I said once that The Passion of the Christ was light-years ahead of other Christian movies of its day, but still very far behind what I wanted to see Christian movies become. Father Stu is another small step in the direction I would like to see Christian media go. It wrestles with the hard questions without sugar coating it. It shows the gritty side of Christian life. It shows what we do when the going gets tough. It shows that we don’t check either our brain or our heart at the door when we dig into the deep stuff of Christianity. It shows Christians that atheist culture isn’t scary and shows atheists that Christian culture isn’t scary.

All that said, there’s a lot of room for improvement. As is often the problem with biopics, story points don’t happen in the way that would be most conducive to spreading the message the creators are trying to spread. It’s one of the reasons I don’t do videos. In text, I can organize things topically, include dates, and then notes about how tacitly related elements connect chronologically. In video, that gets confusing. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just that it’s harder.

I liked Father Stu, but I’m definitely grading on a curve. I’m looking forward to the next iteration down this path: a fictionalized composite story that brings in elements from several known, prominent converts, or a story about a saint with a more epic story, or maybe a superhero movie with a conflicted, struggling, modern day Elijah.

Maoretic Matthew: Where do I Get the Consonantal Text for the Maoretic Matthew?

The base consonants behind The Mesoretic Matthew come from one manuscript. It is not an eclectic work, nor is it a back-translation on my part, nor is it a creation from my imagination. The manuscript currently resides in the National Library of Paris, catalogued under Hebrew Manuscript number 132. This manuscript has captured the imagination of several eccentric Christian scholars through the ages. I would like to tell the story of how this text came to reside in a Google Doc available to the public. For this story, I’m going to begin at the end and work backwards. The more recent things are more certain. 

As of 2022, I’m in the process of proofreading my Corrected King James Version of Matthew while simultaneously making my own translation of Matthew using this base text. I have already made one translation of the manuscript, but I have a particular way I would like to go forward with future translations of inspired material, and it means starting over since I didn’t do that with my original translation. As I go, I’m double checking the vowel points in my text, as well as adding marginal notes to represent majority readings between the other manuscripts in the same family. In 2021, I finished the process of proofreading and adding vowel points to the text and made my Masoretic Matthew available to the public. Before that, I had a version up that was just the consonants, but it had a few typos. I had already run one proofread on the text while translating in 2008, so the typos weren’t the kind to keep you from reading it. Before that, I had proofread it in 2004 when a series of interlibrary loans granted me photocopies of the original, handwritten manuscript. My involvement with the text started in 2001. I became curious about the history of the Hebrew Matthew after reading “The Hebrew Matthew” by Dr. George Howard, and managed to get ahold of photocopies of the Hebrew portions of the thesis written by Adolf Herbst in 1879. I’ve always preferred to work in digital rather than analog space, so I set about the process of transcribing it into a UTF-8 text document. That took about a year, since I didn’t have any OCR software.

In recent memory, Dr. Hugh Schonfield was enamored by the manuscript and published a translation of it in 1927 under the title “An Old Hebrew Text of St. Matthew’s Gospel.” Even though I disagree with him in some particulars, I think that his work is invaluable to establishing the authenticity of the text, and I will be referencing it briefly later.

The manuscript came to rest at the National Library of Paris in 1555. The text was delivered to the library by Jean DuTillet, Bishop of St. Brieuc, after he found it while visiting Rome. Bishop DuTillet also published a printed transcription of the text, along with a Latin translation. Bishop DuTillet’s introduction is only a few pages long, so he doesn’t give a lot of details about where the text came from.

Past that, we enter the realm of speculation. However, there are two mostly-binary cuts that we can make: either the text was new in the middle ages or it descended from the first centuries of the church, and either it was preserved by hands sympathetic to the Christian message or those hostile to it. I believe that the text goes back to the earliest centuries of the church and that it was preserved by those sympathetic to the Christian message.

I’ve already discussed why I think that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Hebrew and various readings in the Paris Manuscript that show signs of being the original language rather than a translation. However, one concern that students of the New Testament have with the Paris Manuscript and the closely related Shem Tob and Münster Hebrew versions of Matthew is that they appear in the middle ages with very little interaction with that text in the Christian community in the intervening time. Jerome mentions seeing it in the Fifth Century, then there are a few fragmentary quotes that seem to match in the Seventh Century and later in Jewish communities, and then there are the manuscripts relevant to this discussion starting in the Thirteenth Century. When you’re weighing the possibilities, it’s always important to consider the possibility that a near predecessor to Shem Tob produced the first manuscript in this family by back translating from the existing Latin manuscripts in the eleventh or twelfth centuries. How could we falsify such a theory? 

One means of falsifying this theory is textual connections between texts that were known in the first few centuries of the Church but were unknown in the middle ages. Dr. Schonfield was able to identify some of these in his book. He lists ninety five readings that are in common between the Paris Manuscript and the Old Syriac Gospels. For example:

  • 1:21, the Hebrew shares an unusual wording with the Old Syriac.
  • 5:45, says “on the good and the evil” instead of “on the evil and the good.”
  • 12:50, “sisters” is plural instead of singular
  • 21:37 says, “Maybe they will respect my son.”
  • 22:42 says, “Son of David” instead of just “of David.”

The Old Syriac Gospels were unknown in Europe until the Nineteenth Century. Yet with ninety five agreements between the Hebrew Matthew and these early texts, it looks like there must have been some connection between these versions of Matthew. Unless a more conclusive connection can be made for these matching variations, the variants seen in the Old Syriac and the Hebrew Matthew stands as a connection between the Fifth Century and the Hebrew Matthew editions of the middle ages. Similarly, Dr. George Howard is able to make connections between variations in the Hebrew edition he evaluated and some early Greek manuscripts against the Greek and Latin texts that were known in the middle ages. This only strengthens the connection between the Hebrew Matthew and the early centuries of Christianity.

Given that this gives us good reason to think that the Hebrew Matthew does extend back to the early days of the Church, we next need to move on to the question of whether the text was preserved by sympathetic hands or hostile hands. The skeptic might suppose that it was preserved by ambivalent hands, but since such a prospect was both expensive and dangerous it would remain a challenge for that skeptic to explain why someone ambivalent would undertake that expense and danger. Those hostile to Christianity might have preserved it (accidentally or on purpose) as part of their ongoing dispute with the church, as we see in the person of Shem Tob. Those friendly to Christianity might have preserved it believing it to be the original text of Matthew or if they were native Hebrew speakers or held the Hebrew language in high regard simply as a novelty (as seems to have been the case with the person of DuTillet.) Novelty or ideological self-defense can justify a fair amount of danger and expense. Ambivalence usually nullifies the desire to spend lots of money and undertake danger. If I tell you that I’m going to charge you $100 and you might lose your job just for owning a copy of a controversial book, you might buy it and take on the risk if you felt the book was a risk you needed to prepare yourself against and you might if you agree with the book and want to know more about it, but if you have no particular feelings about the book either the cost or the danger alone would be enough to convince you not to do it.

With that, I’ve made two rather bold assertions: that making the Hebrew Matthew could be socially dangerous, and that making the Hebrew Matthew would be expensive. To address the first of these, Dr. Schonfield theorized that DuTillet actually found the Hebrew Matthew that he published after the issue of Cum Nimis Absurdum. This was an antisemitic declaration by Pope Paul IV which revoked all rights for the Jewish community within the Papal States and outlawed the Talmud. In practice, the enforcers of this decree couldn’t read Hebrew, so anything written in Hebrew letters was suspect. Whether the original owner was sympathetic or hostile to the Christian message, carrying around something that would be so easily confused with contraband material would leave you subject to suspicion and attack and you could end up forced into the Jewish ghetto.

As to books being expensive to make, scribes were highly paid specialists and the process was labor intensive. They didn’t have ball point pens or pencils. You would have to dip your pen in the ink after every few letters. Paper was expensive to make, requiring multiple days to make the amount of paper (of whatever type) needed for a book the length of Matthew. It would require either hiring someone with the relevant skills, or if you had the relevant skills taking several unpaid days off other work to make a project like Matthew.

So the idea of it being an ambivalent bystander would need better justification. That leaves either someone sympathetic to the Gospel message or someone hostile to it. Which is it?

I’m the case of Shem Tob, who preserves a Hebrew Matthew that’s in the same family, we know for sure it was preserved by someone hostile to the Gospel message. The entire purpose for writing Even Bohen was to defend his hostile position towards Christianity against Christians that were hostile to his position. In the case of Münster, his claim was that he was given his manuscript after converting hostile Jews to Christianity, with the claim that they no longer needed it. Since they weren’t refuting Christian claims any more, the manuscript had outlived its usefulness to them. With the Paris Manuscript, we don’t have those details. We have to speculate based on the text itself.

Within the text of the manuscript, there are 109 separator marks within the text. The first occurs at the end of verse 2. This draws attention to the fact the Jesus is of the tribe of Judah. Often they will follow or proceed a quotation from the Old Testament. There’s one after 4:22 and then again after 4:24, bracketing out the growing fame of Jesus. 5:22 has three dividers, drawing attention to the poetic structure of the verse. 5:27 and 5:23 and 5:38 have them to draw attention to the “Ye have heard it said” portions. 

4:47 gets called out, where Jesus says that you already have your reward if you salute your brothers only. The Lord’s Prayer is bracketed out in Chapter 6. 6:24 gets attention for being where Jesus declares that we cannot serve two masters. 

One that Jews of the middle ages might have been interested in is 5:17, which is where Jesus says he has not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill. Even so, this is also important to Christians.

I think this is far enough to demonstrate that these marks seem much more in line with Christian liturgy and practice than Jewish objections.

Then we can compare the text of the Paris Manuscript to Shem Tob in another way as well. Shem Tob was there to make a point, and wasn’t afraid to corrupt the text to do it. It had to be something that he was sure his opponents would buy into, though. For example, in 24:15 Shem Tob adds the Greek word “Antichrist.” The evidence hints that in at least one edition of his book he skipped the generations from Eliakim to Achim in the genealogy. Shem Tob skips over the Trinitarian formula for baptism, which he would have found offensive and wouldn’t have played into his discussion. There’s no doxology on The Lord’s Prayer in Shem Tob.

All those liturgical elements are present in the Paris Manuscript. But there’s more. In the genealogy, the scribe not only fails to skip any generations, he adds one! The problem of only having thirteen names in the list between the Babylonian Exile is repaired by the addition of Abner to the list. What’s more, when we are told that there are sets of fourteen, this manuscript conveniently skips over the part that says there are fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian Exile. This is interesting, because it does only contain fourteen names just like Greek Matthew, but this means that both Greek Matthew and Hebrew Matthew have skipped over Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah and Jehoiakim. So there are actually eighteen generations in this list.

In the unlikely event that the Paris reading is original and Abner really is part of the genealogy and there really was no mention of fourteen generations from David to the Exile when Matthew wrote the text, it’s amazing that God has preserved it. Praise God! (Conditionally.) In the near infinitely more likely situation that this was the result of a scribe making the executive decision to fix these errors instead of copying what was in front of him, it means they were trying to protect the Gospel Message from objections, not objecting to it. Fully exploring that scenario will have to wait a few weeks, when I discuss the concept of divine preservation. If the text were preserved to highlight problems with Christianity, these errors would have been highlighted, not corrected.

Which brings me to the one substantial objection to the theory that the text was preserved by scribes sympathetic to the Christian message: the 23 hostile questions at the end. When I first started to suspect that the text was preserved by friendly scribes, I tried to imagine the questions as study questions. After all, the study question “How can Christ be God and Man?” and the hostile question “How can Christ be God and Man?” are worded identically. I have a hard time seeing many of the questions as friendly study questions though. They all feel hostile, but I’m going to focus in on a few to highlight how unlikely they are to be any sort of study question. The first question asks how Christ’s sacrifice can apply to humanity if it is also the means by which the Jews are condemned. This sounds particularly timely for the discovery of the manuscript in light of Cum Nimis Absurdum. It’s also somewhat insightful for the century in general. If a Christian wrote that question, then that Christian might have been sympathetic to the Jewish cause. Question 3 goes on to connect “son of Man” to a variety of negative traits and apply those to Jesus. That certainly doesn’t seem like something a Christian would say. Question 6 points out that Jesus’s miracles aren’t any more impressive than any other holy men from the Old Testament. Again, this doesn’t sound like a study question.

Now, I could go through all 23 questions with my ten year old daughter and give concrete answers that she would understand. I used to teach teenagers in Sunday School, and about a third of my kids could answer all 23 questions off the top of their head. That’s not the point. Many of the questions only make sense in the context of the middle ages, for example the first question. Post World War II, it’s quite out of fashion to say that Jews of today are condemned because some Jews of another century took part in the crucifixion. In the modern era, we would answer that question by pointing out that Romans were involved in the Crucifixion as well and all of the Apostles were also Jews, and by that means take the emphasis off the Jewish heritage or inherited guilt or whatever term feels most appropriate there and draw attention to the universal guilt of all mankind. I agree with the conclusion, that there was no point in history when all Jews were morally condemned as a people group beyond what all humanity experiences. That would not have been the move in the Thirteenth Century, though. In my opinion, that’s what makes the first question so insightful if it were written by a Christian: it connects Jews to all humanity and tries to incorporate them into the forgiveness of Christ. If it were written by a Jew, that makes sense. If it were written by a Christian, that’s surprisingly insightful. In light of the other questions I highlighted, it seems much more likely that the questions were written by Jews hostile to the Christian message. Since the handwriting and style of the questions seems to match the rest of the manuscript, that implies that the whole manuscript was written by Jews hostile to the Christian message. Jews hostile to the Christian message, who strengthened the weakest claims of the gospel, faithfully and beautifully recorded the Gospel, and highlighted elements of Christian liturgy, theology, and moral philosophy. How is that hostile again?

Another important question that someone who believes like me (who believes the manuscript was preserved by friendly hands) should try to answer is simple: who? I don’t know. Some of the questions have to do with kosher and Jewish practice, so it’s possible that the community that maintained this manuscript tradition was a sect of Torah observant Christians, something like the Nazarene or Ebionite sects. The problem is that I’m not aware of any evidence for anything like that existing in or near Rome at the time. I’m open to it, but I would need to see primary sources for something like that. Even if some Ebionite or Nazarene Christians did exist on the fringe of the known world, I’d want a working theory as to how their Gospel ended up in Rome. I would love to hear the thoughts of anyone who has more specific information that might be relevant to the subject.

I’m not a great textual critic, but with such a small number of manuscripts to work with I have decided to create marginalia that will represent a “Marjory Hebrew Text” for the Hebrew manuscripts. The default reading will be the text of the Paris Manuscript. When the text of Münster’s Matthew and the text of Shem Tob’s Matthew agree in the wording, and it goes against the Paris Manuscript, then I’ll have a marginal note for the variant reading. Finally, if neither Münster’s nor Shem Tob’s agree with the Paris Manuscript, and if the Paris Manuscript disagrees with the Greek Majority Text of Robinson and Pierpont, I’ll pick the reading that is closest to the Majority Text. If this method results in removing text, I’ll mark the removed text with Masoretic Dots. If this text results in a replaced word or the addition of just one or two words, it will be marked in the footnotes as a qure reading. If it means adding a phrase to the text, it will be bracketed by reverse nuns. My main translation text will follow the Paris Manuscript, but I’ll note the majority reading in the footnotes.

A friend once told me, “There’s what you can imagine, then what you think, then what you suspect, then what you know, and then what you can prove. Don’t ever say anything until it gets to what you can prove.” The theory that the Hebrew Matthew was preserved by friendly hands barely crosses the threshold from what I can imagine to what I think. I don’t know if it’s true. I sure as chocolate cake can’t prove it. I’d give it better chances than Bigfoot, but that’s the only hurdle I’m clearing with this one. I do feel confident that the text descends directly from the original Hebrew Gospel written by Matthew himself, with a direct line of Hebrew to Hebrew transcription, with direct ties to the earliest days of Christianity that aren’t adequately explained by presuming it to be a back translation of the Latin or Greek text.

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

How do you know when conventional wisdom is wrong? After all, one of the great things about conventional wisdom is that it has usually been tried and tested over and over. If conventional wisdom is that dragons always go for the kill, there’s bound to be a reason. There have been hundreds of dragon attacks and other encounters, every one of them ended with the dragon going for the kill. How can you know that this conventional wisdom is wrong?

That first time Hiccup encountered his night furry, he could have been killed. But it lets him live. This one small moment leads him to question everything that his village knows about dragons. Along the way, he learns that they’ve gotten a lot of things wrong about dragons. They aren’t the bloodthirsty, aggressive, stupid creatures that tradition depicts. They’re wild, not evil.

Hiccup tames the night furry, names it Toothless, nurses it back to health.

Fishlegs knows a lot about the capabilities of the various dragon breeds. None of the wisdom that Fishlegs gives us about the capabilities of dragons throughout the movie is overturned. It turns out that vikings really do know a lot about dragons. They just have a few things wrong, and these all stem from one wrong thing. In point of fact, Hiccup observed incorrectly that “everything we know about you is wrong.” It all comes down to one essential wrong assumption. Correcting this minor error opens to a whole new world of dragon interactions.

This year, as I’ve been collecting my thoughts regarding the Hebrew Matthew, I’ve felt some of this. Reading Matthew from the Hebrew original the last few decades has led me to notice things that I wouldn’t get any other way: word plays and puns and poetry and the like. It’s hard to take some versions of infallibility seriously. Knowing that Matthew is preserved in so few Hebrew manuscripts has led me to be skeptical of certain views of text criticism or views on preservation. That doesn’t mean that I’ve lost everything. Some views are all the stronger for this new approach. Reading Matthew in the original Hebrew has led me to a stronger conviction that the Trinity is true.

Of course, it’s always hard to know if this is really the time to throw conventional wisdom aside. What if I’m wrong? If Hiccup had been wrong, he’d have been eaten. Could my fate be even worse? I don’t think so, but if I could be wrong about this I could be wrong about that. I don’t think I’m wrong. I hope I’m not wrong. The deeper I study this, the more reason I have to think I’m right. Just like Hiccup.