From: Don Martin
To: Bob Hyde
Date: Sep 1 1998 11:25:16 am
Subject: [1/2] Homer & Co
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Bob Hyde said "Homer & Co" to Richard Smith, adding:

BH> I think it would be good to clear up some issues. I
BH> didn't think my question was so hard to understand . .
BH> . However . . .

BH> Ancient literature: We have 643 manuscripts for Homer's
BH> Iliad, which is second in manuscript authority after
BH> the New Testament of the Bible. We have over 5,000
BH> manuscripts to establish the New Testament. It would
BH> seem therefore that in this regard, the New Testament
BH> is the #1 piece of ancient literature in the world.

BH> I hope this clarifies what I was saying.

It clarifies that you have a very tenuous grasp of what
you are talking about, and none at all of the significance
of such numbers.

To the latter point, you would appear to suupose that
such a numeric difference actually _has_ some significance
to some point or other (i.e., that it is meaningful), when
in fact it has none. We have a great many more living
persons with an IQ <90 than we have persons with an IQ >160:
would you therefore maintain that the views of the numerous
dolts are of more value than those of the few geniuses?

But where your assertion gets _really_ foggy is in the
details. How do you define "manuscript"? Obviously, it means
something written (script) by hand (manu), but before around
1450 or so when the printing press was invented, _all_ books
were manuscripts.

Since the invention of printing, the term "manuscript"
(MS) has come to mean "original", either the author's
holograph or copies thereof made by amaneunses under the
author's direction: the term has been extended to cover
typewritten copies or printout by those persons.

In this sense, no MSS exist of either the Illiad or the

What you refer to as MS are no more than copies of
published works, published the way things were before the
development of mass production of words, by scribes making
copies of other copies. In the acient world, this would have
been done both by stables of scribes turning out numerous
copies simultaneously and by individuals making their own
from a borrowed copy, either personally, or by means of a
scribe hired for the purpose.

The great Library of Alexandria was built by a law upon
all travellers entering the city, requiring that all books
in their possession be surrendered to the Library. There the
books were copied, and the originals returned to the
traveller in a month or so. Keep doing this for a few
centuries, and you can build up a pretty good collection.
Holders of modern copyright would object to such a practice,
but that is the way things were done back then.

Not having the author's copies of Matthew, Mark, Luke
and whatnot, the fallback position is to speak of the
"earliest known MS" of these, under the presumption that the
closer the copy is to the original, the more accurately it
will preserve the words of that original. I do not know the
earliest known MS of the NT (I expect Curtis Johnson
does--he seems to have all this stuff in direct recall), but
apart from the material from the Dead Sea Scrolls, I would
guess that little of it dates from much earlier than the 3rd
century of the common era. Were you to do some specific
research on those "over 5,000 manuscripts to establish the
New Testament" (which weasel terminology I shall address
next), I would expect you to find that the great majority of
them date to the medieval period--copies at some remove from
the original, but perhaps the best we've got.

Now then, what criteria must a MS meet to number among
your "over 5,000 manuscripts to establish the New
Testament"? Is this number confined to those books currently
included in the NT, or does it contain also the gospels
rejected from the canon (in other words, is there some
discrimination regarding content, or do you include anything
vaguely Christian)? What does it _mean_ "to establish the
New Testament?" Certainly, the Old Testament would be
considered by many to be foundational to the New. Do you so
regard it? If so, do you also include the long tradition of
commentary on the OT that predates the NT? Where you have an
"oldest copy known" of, say, the Book of Mark, do you then
exclude the more recent versions from the 5000? If you do
not exclude them, what is your reason for so doing, apart
from swelling that number? (This is about as meaningful as
having one MS Whitman poem and 199 xeroxes thereof and
claiming to have 200 MS Whitman poems--yes, they are all
apparently handwritten, but what of it?)

Once you have firmed up your criteria for inclusion, you
may wish to consider the objects you are comparing: The
Illiad, a work of literature and the NT, the holy writ of a
proselytizing religion based in mystic ways on the value of
The Word. The Zeus-believing Greeks/Romans and whatnot never
regarded the Illiad as anything other than a great story;
they certainly did not see it in the same way as Christians
regard the NT. Theirs was a religion of rites and rituals to
keep the supernatural at bay: they did not expect to be made
one with the supernatural, nor had they been "chosen" by
that supernatural to fulfill some grand destiny. No book
played so central a role in their lives as did the NT in the
lives of the Christians, so the two books are not comparable
as cult items.

Neither are they comparable in terms of age: the Illiad
is dated from around 850 BCE; the NT was written nearly a
millenium later (around 70-150 CE for the gospels, though
earlier for Paul) and assembled into its present form, with
some books accepted and others rejected in the 3-4th century

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