This year some members of study groups have been asking about the ‘original’ text of the New Testament, so last night I took the PCC and the Shared Ministry Team through a much more academic exercise than I would usually. I hadn't realised how fascinated some people would be by this.
I was helped by the placing of the complete fourth century Codex Sinaiticus (including the earliest, or one of the earliest, New Testaments) on line this month. They could go home and look at one of about a dozen major sources for the original text of the New Testament, right down to the finger print of a scribe on one of the pages.
I explained that these major sources (and a large number of other early fragments) provide substantial agreement about the majority of the text. But where they disagree a scholarly opinion has to be formed about what the correct Greek text is before it can be translated. These disagreements sometimes show up in notes at the bottom of a page in our New Testaments with words like ‘other ancient authorities read’.
I was also helped by the Gospel we read on Sunday. They were familiar with the story of one of the Herods being scandalously married to his former sister-in-law Herodias whose daughter Salome (although she is not named in the Bible) dances before her step-father / uncle, is promised any reward she chooses, and is prompted by her mother to ask for the head of John the Baptist who had spoken out against the marriage. The Jewish historian Josephus has them all being related in a slightly different way, names Herodias’ daughter as Salome, and links the scandal of her marriage to the execution of John the Baptist, so there is a rare touching point with independently evidenced history here even if there is some disagreement about the details.
We read Mark 6.22 in the New Revised Standard Version (‘When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests’) which is different from, for example, the New International Version (‘When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests’). The NIV appears to make more sense and translates what is in some sources, but the NRSV translators obviously think that what is in many other sources is more likely to be the original text both because it is better evidenced and also perhaps because it is a stranger reading and thus less likely to have been produced by a scribe trying to ‘correct’ his source.
The shadow was in St Michael’s the previous evening.