A Literary Culture of Interpolations

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by Neil Godfrey

In response to those who dismiss a priori the likelihood of interpolations in the letters of Paul, Walker lists the following:

  1. There appears little doubt that Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey contain numerous interpolations. Ancient librarians and scholars made it their task to identify them. (Walker cites George M Bolling and Robert M Grant)
  2. Interpolations are also found in Orpheus, Musaeus, Hippocrates, Aristophanes, Euripides and Thucydides. (Walker cites Grant and Maurer)
  3. Also in the letters of the philosophers — Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Seneca — by their followers. (Citing Stanley Stowers)
  4. Early Christians interpolated Jewish writings:
    1. The Testimonium Flavianum or at least part thereof;
    2. Celsus said Christians added to the Sibylline Oracles to provide pagan support for Christianity,
    3. and also other Jewish writings like the Synagogal Prayers, . . .
    4. . . . the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs,
    5. . . . the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah
    6. . . . and 4 Ezra. (– Citing Meier, Eva Sanford, Solomon Zeitlin, Wallace-Hadrill, K A Olson, Grant, James Charlesworth, E P Sanders and A I Baumgarten and Alan Mendelson)
  5. Romans 3.13-18 was incorporated into most LXX manuscripts of Psalm 13 (Ps 14 in Hebrew bible) — citing O’Neill
  6. Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, claimed “heretics” had both added to and deleted from his letters. (Grant)
  7. Irenaeus expressed fears his writings would be interpolated.
  8. Rufinus claimed many Greek patristic writings had been interpolated (Grant)
  9. Marcion believed the letters of Paul and gospel of Luke had been heavily interpolated.
  10. Many scholars see both the Pentateuch and gospels as being built up layer by layer. (e.g. Genesis based on JE with P later added)
  11. The longer recension of Epistles of Ignatius

Many other examples — some well known ones include:

  1. The adulterous woman episode in gospel of John
  2. The longer ending of Mark
  3. Perhaps final chapter of John
  4. The Western text of the Gospels and Acts — note the “western non-interpolations”

Interpolations are not easy today given nature of printing technology, but the evidence does point to them being part of the literary culture in the ancient world. It would be naive to assume an absence of interpolations, particularly in controversial religious literature.

Implications for Bauckham?
Now re Bauckham — why would the guardians of an oral tradition trust their final word to written documents? Would not one expect them to also choose successors to guard the tradition that had been written? Yet the only “historical records” we have of successors being chosen by the Twelve seem to end up in Rome. Is Bauckham promoting the authority of the Holy See with his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses?

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Neil Godfrey

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