The World’s First Wikipedia Article

This is a cold analysis of the Bible:

“Those who call the King James Version of the Bible the unerring word of God,” writes reviewer Doug Brown, “have a slight problem. The New Testament of the KJV (as the King James Version is usually referred) was translated into English from a version of the Greek New Testament that had been collected from 12th-century copies by Erasmus. Where Erasmus couldn’t find Greek manuscripts, he translated to Greek from the Latin Vulgate (which itself had been translated from Greek back in the fourth century). Here the problem splits into two problems. First, Jesus spoke Aramaic — his actual words, never recorded, were only rendered in Greek in the original gospels. Thus, the KJV consists of Jesus’s words twice refracted through the prism of translation. Second, Erasmus’s Greek New Testament was based on handwritten copies of copies of copies of copies, etc., going back over a millennium, and today is considered one of the poorer Greek New Testaments.”

Consider this just one example of a “sacred text” treated almost as a farcical text in regard to its having a single, coherent, intentional, shaping, authorial, divine mind behind it. Is the Bible, in one counting, the 66 books of the Protestant Bible, the 73 books of the Roman Catholic Bible, or the 77 books of the Eastern Orthodox Bible?

After a litany of examples of intercopy disagreements, scribal clarifications, arbitrary decisions on what is canonical and what is apocryphal, and putative scribal addenda such as the controversial last twelve verses of Mark (16:9-20) with their references to snake handling and speaking in tongues, it is difficult to think of such texts as sacred as opposed to much-handled — compilations over time by committee. If you’d been told recently that the seventh and final volume of the Harry Potter series had gone through changes at the hands of 10 copyists and editors, not to mention been translated through several languages before reaching English, would you feel confident it was J.K. Rowling’s sacred conclusion to her tale? Writes Brown, “In many respects, the Bible was the world’s first Wikipedia article.”

Unfortunately for religious fundamentalists, it’s largely correct as well.

4 thoughts on “The World’s First Wikipedia Article”

  1. I think “largely correct” is right–where I’d dispute it is the implication that there is no way to sort out the extant manuscripts to determine what was original and what was addition. The field of stemmatics (classifying documents into family trees, identifying copyist’s errors and editorial insertions) is a legitimate science that does what is analogous to comparing DNA sequences to find evolutionary relationships between species.

    I find this wonderful irony–that the best way of identifying “original text” (to the extent it can be done) is a method which also demonstrates common ancestry. It presents a nice dilemma for fundamentalists…

  2. Old English? Hardly. It’s technically Modern English. And it’s not that far removed from the English in use today. It just has some -eth and -est endings, and some archaic words, but in general it’s still much more readable than people give it credit for.

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