Tag Archives: Interpolations

Three Lessons from Classics for Biblical Studies?

Some interesting points I came across while reading A. J. Woodman’s Rhetoric in Classical Historiography and some of his references:

Initial eyewitness claims not followed up

Earlier in this same chapter Thucydides drew a distinction between events which he experienced himself and those which were reported to him by others (22.2). Although  he never gives us any indication of how many, or indeed which, events fall into each category . . . 

(p. 26)

The implication is that Thucydides’ rhetoric is designed to impress; there is no evidence of any truth to the claim. Indeed, works demonstrating Thucydides’ reliance upon literary sources (e.g. Aeschylus, Euripides, Aristarchus of Syracuse) — sources that Thucydides attempted to deny — are listed. That reminded me that we never read in Luke-Acts which events are derived from the “eyewitnesses” apparently referenced in the prologue.

Poetic devices appearing in prose

Herodotus often echoes the rhythms of poetry, and some passages of his prose can actually be turned into verse without too much difficulty. . . . . [Thucydides] . . . concludes, perhaps significantly, by reproducing the hexameter rhythm of an all but complete line of epic verse.

(pp. 3, 9)

Prose authors periodically break into poetic rhythms. That makes me wonder if there are similar practices in philosophical or epistolary literature from the era of the Pauline letters. Paul is sometimes said to be incorporating earlier hymn verses into his letters; what is the likelihood he authored such passages himself?

Grounds for suspecting interpolation

To be considered for inclusion in the category of ancient interpolations in Aristophanes a word, phrase or passage must satisfy two conditions: first, there must be grounds for thinking that Aristophanes did not write it, or at least not with the intention that it should stand where it now stands in the text; and secondly, there must be grounds for thinking that it was present in at least one copy of the text earlier than the dark age which separates late antiquity from the Photian renaissance.

Sounds reasonable. The criteria would open floodgates of possible interpolations into the NT texts, though.


Dover, Kenneth J. 1977. “Ancient Interpolation in Aristophanes.” Illinois Classical Studies 2: 136–62.

Woodman, A. J. 2004. Rhetoric in Classical Historiography: Four Studies. London : New York: Routledge.


Imagine No Interpolations

What if the Testimonium Flavianum, the passage about Jesus and his followers, in Antiquities by Josephus was written in full (or maybe with the exception of no more than 3 words) by Josephus? I know that would raise many questions about the nature of the rest of our sources but let’s imagine the authenticity of the passage in isolation from everything else for now.

What if the passage about Christ in Tacitus was indeed written by Tacitus? Ditto about that raising more questions as above, but the same.

What if even the author attribution studies that have demonstrated the very strong likelihood that Pliny’s letter about Christians to Trajan was not written by Pliny were wrong after all?

What if that “pocket gospel” in the early part of chapter 11 of the Ascension of Isaiah were original to the text and not a subsequent addition? (I think that the most recent scholarly commentary by Enrico Norelli on the Ascension of Isaiah does actually suggest that scenario but I have not read any of the justifications if that is the case.)

What if 2 Thessalonians 2:13-16 which has Paul saying the Jews themselves killed Jesus in Judea was indeed written by Paul thus adding one more inconsistency of Paul’s thought to the already high pile?

What if, contrary to what has been argued in a work opposing (sic) the Christ Myth hypothesis, the passage about Paul meeting James the brother of the Lord was originally penned by Paul after all?

Would the above Imagine scenarios collectively remove any reason to question the assertion that Christianity began ultimately with a historical Jesus?

I don’t think so. read more »

Interpolations in Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews

Of special interest to many readers are questions over the authenticity of passages about Jesus and John the Baptist in Josephus’s Antiquities.

We know the tell-tales signs that a passage has been inserted into Josephus’s Antiquities:

  • It breaks the narrative flow of the surrounding passage;
  • It contradicts what is known about information from other sources or even elsewhere in Josephus’s work;
  • It can be out-of-place chronologically;
  • It appears to assume certain details are found elsewhere in Antiquities but that are not found anywhere else;
  • It introduces details in which Josephus appears to have no interest in the rest of his work.

But what if Josephus himself was responsible for those interpolations? A study by Vered Noam sets out evidence for thinking that Josephus was responsible for a series of additions to an otherwise completed narrative history. We know that textual “corruptions” were very common throughout antiquity (for some details see Forgery in the ancient world) so the question that we need to ask as we read Antiquities is: Is this interpolation by Josephus or some subsequent copyist?

To illustrate a case for an interpolation by Josephus into his own work I copy a table from Vered Noam’s Shifting Images (p. 69). Close to twenty years after completing the Jewish War (75-79 CE) Josephus modified and expanded that earlier narrative by adding — interpolating — new material in Antiquities (93/94 CE). (I have added the older passage location references — e.g. III. 7 — that many of us relying on Whiston translation know better than the Loeb Classical Library numbering.) read more »

Why Many Interpolations in Paul’s Letters are Very Likely

Some Surprises from the Apostle Paul by William O. Walker, Jr. contains an interesting chapter about interpolations. Walker does not agree that most scholars should remain sceptical regarding many proposed interpolations in Paul’s letters.

They see no way to identify such interpolations with any certainty, and they tend to regard arguments for interpolation as highly speculative and almost inevitably circular in nature. (Kindle ed, loc ca 1575)

Walker disagrees. He argues that there are “sound a priori grounds for assuming the presence of interpolations — probably many interpolations — in the Pauline letters but also that such interpolations can sometimes be identified with a fair degree of certainty.”

Interestingly there is one set of passages that Christ mythicists sometimes rely upon that Walker believes were probably not penned by Paul so maybe that little detail might encourage some of us to open up to the possibility he might be right. 🙂

Walker points to two reasons we should expect to find interpolations in Paul’s letters.

  • Scholars have identified numerous interpolations in other ancient texts — “Homeric, Classical, Hellenistic, Jewish and Christian.” We know of interpolations in letters by ancient philosophers to their followers. Even in the Gospel of Mark we have the little disputed interpolation of the final chapter, 16:9-20; and in the Gospel of John there is the episode of the woman taken in adultery found in 7:53 – 8:11. And in the gospels of Matthew and Luke we find that huge chunks have been interpolated into the gospel of Mark. So if we know for a fact that texts were very often expanded with inserted material then we should surely be surprised if Paul’s letters proved to be the exception.

Walker’s second reason for expecting interpolations throughout Paul’s letters involves what we know of their literary history: read more »

Jesus the Seed of David: One More Case for Interpolation

Romans 1:1-7 (YLT)

1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, a called apostle,

having been separated to the good news of God —

2 which He announced before through His prophets in holy writings —

3 concerning His Son,

(who is come of the seed of David according to the flesh,

4 who is marked out Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of sanctification [=Holy Spirit], by the rising again from the dead,)

Jesus Christ our Lord;

5 through whom we did receive grace and apostleship, for obedience of faith among all the nations,

in behalf of his name;

6 among whom are also ye, the called of Jesus Christ;

7 to all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called saints; Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and [from] the Lord Jesus Christ!

Interpolation is a four letter word for some scholars: it can only be justified under extreme provocation such as when all the earliest witnesses leave not a shadow of doubt.

Such a standard flies in the face of what we know about the transmission of ancient manuscripts, especially the canonical ones. See Forgery in the ancient world and List of scholars believing Paul’s letters were interpolated. Nonetheless I can understand why some authors play it safe by being very reluctant to treat any passage in Paul’s letters as an interpolation unless supported by widely acknowledged arguments. I’m not so conservative. If only one scholar produces very sound arguments that his or her peers fail to address then I’m willing to take the possibility of interpolation seriously.

So much for the preamble.

Sparks have flown between Christ Myth advocates and their opponents over the opening passage in Paul’s epistle to the Romans that declares Jesus Christ to be “of the seed of David according to the flesh” but these verses may have another significance for our understanding of how early Christian ideas evolved. So forget the mythicist debate for a moment.

Many of us are aware of Hermann Detering’s arguments for Romans 1:2-6 being an interpolation laden with anti-Marcionite innuendo. I won’t repeat those here. Consider this a related post.

I have also posted the 1942 argument of A. D. Howell-Smith for Romans 1:3 (who is come of the seed of David) being an interpolation. Again, consider this post related.

Alfred Loisy (1935) makes a passing reference to Romans 1:3-4 (see the bolded passage in the side box) being a likely interpolation in Remarques sur la littérature épistolaire du Nouveau Testament, p. 9. These lines are anomalous padding within a standard introduction.

J. C. O’Neill in Paul’s Letter to the Romans (1975) published a detailed argument for why we should consider all of verses 1b to 5a as an interpolation. (See the indented lines in the side-box. He also found the words I have italicized intrusive.) It is O’Neill’s discussion pages 25 to 28 that I set out below.

Normal Letter Introductions

Normal introductions were as simple as possible. Example:

Demophon to Ptolemaeus, greeting.

Affectionate and official letters could be elaborated a little:

Apion to Epimarchus his father and Lord, heartiest greetings. 

Polycrates to his father, greeting.

Claudius Lysias to his Excellency the governor Felix, greeting. (Acts 23:26)

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion, greeting. (James 1:1)

Paul’s Introductions

read more »

List of scholars believing Paul’s letters were interpolated

sturdyWe know that forgery and interpolation of texts were very common in the ancient world so it is odd to hear some theologians insist that we should discount the possibility of any of Paul’s letters had been so doctored unless and until we find very compelling reasons — usually only by means of manuscript evidence — to think otherwise. Is this some hangover from the days when the Bible was supposed to be sacred and inerrant?

We do know not all biblical scholars take this advice, however. Here is a conveniently set out list of scholars who have argued that specific verses in the “authentic” Pauline letters were added by Christian scribes after Paul had departed the scene. The list is compiled from John Sturdy’s notes and published in 2007. Sturdy died in 1996 so the list includes no scholars who have added arguments for interpolations since then.

The publication, Redrawing the Boundaries: The Date of Early Christian Literature, was from a manuscript that Sturdy had been working on but never finished. His intent was to refute the early dating that had been published by in 1976 by John Robinson: Redating the New Testament. “This is simply mischief!”, said Sturdy more than once of Robinson’s book.

Here’s the list. read more »

Ehrman hides the facts about Doherty’s argument: Part 1

Bart Ehrman accuses Earl Doherty of being “driven by convenience” and “simply claiming” that a Bible verse that contradicts his thesis “was not actually written by [Paul]”.

At the same time Ehrman admits that the particular verse is disputed by many scholars, but then in his ensuing discussion he hides (sic!) from his lay readers the reasons they dispute it.  Ehrman even conveys the false impression that all of the scholarly dispute is merely over a few words tagged on at the end of the verse; but surely knows that this is (to use his own damning words from another context) “simply not true”. I find it impossible to imagine that his simplistic and misleading discussion of this text would ever pass peer review were it submitted to a scholarly journal. No matter. He obviously thinks it is all his lay readers need to know; and that information that is only partial, or that is suppressed entirely, will serve more effectively to undermine Doherty’s credibility.

Ehrman’s accusation

Doherty refuses to allow that 1 Thessalonians — which explicitly says that the Jews (or the Judeans) were the ones responsible for the death of Jesus — can be used as evidence of Paul’s view: it is, he insists, an insertion into Paul’s writings, not from the apostle himself. (Here we find, again, textual studies driven by convenience: if a passage contradicts your views, simply claim that it was not actually written by the author.)  (p.  my emphasis)

Notice Ehrman is unambiguously “informing” his readers that it is entirely Doherty’s own self-serving opinion that “refuses” to allow a particular verse to be considered original to Paul. The only reason we are led to believe, and this is on the authority of the highly reputable popular author Bart Ehrman, that Doherty rejects the originality of this verse is “simply” because it “inconveniently” refutes his argument. Doherty “simply claims” a verse is a forgery because, Ehrman assures us, he finds it contradicts his argument.

This is not an isolated accusation. Earlier in his book Ehrman similarly claimed:

One way that some mythicists have gotten around the problem that this, our earliest Christian source, refers to the historical Jesus in several places is by claiming that these references to Jesus were not originally in Paul’s writings but were inserted by later Christian scribes who wanted Paul’s readers to think that he referred to the historical Jesus. This approach to Paul can be thought of as historical reconstruction based on the principle of convenience. If historical evidence proves inconvenient to one’s views, then simply claim that the evidence does not exist, and suddenly you’re right.

This is a mischievous falsehood. Earl Doherty and G. A. Wells are NOT the ones who claim that certain verses are interpolations in order to “get around” contradictory evidence to establish their case. The arguments for the two verses they cite (I don’t know that there are any more than two) being interpolations are long-standing and well established by Ehrman’s own scholarly peers.

First I will quote what Doherty himself says with respect to his reasons for rejecting the authenticity of this verse in 1 Thessalonians.

In my next post I will return to Bart Ehrman’s own attempt to argue for this verse’s genuineness and demonstrate how Ehrman misleads his less well-informed readers about the real reasons many of his own scholarly peers believe the verse was indeed an interpolation. read more »

How easily do historical Jesus scholars drop in that “interpolation card” when it suits

Catching up with Géza Vermes’ The Changing Faces of Jesus I was surprised to find Vermes suggesting that the entire Philippian Hymn (2:6-11) is an interpolation inserted probably around the early second century!

I guess anti-mythicist crusaders have been on my back so much that I had begun to lose sight of what is acceptable and respectable fare in the works of mainstream biblical scholars.

For those not in the know Géza Vermes, according to the Wikipedia article (and I don’t apologize for using Wikipedia since, for all its many faults, it has been recognized by a study published in Nature as no less authoritative than the Encyclopedia Britannica in science articles, so we may reasonably feel entitled to some confidence in the rest) is described as:

a noted authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient works in Aramaic, and on the life and religion of Jesus. He is one of the most important voices in contemporary Jesus research,[1] and he has been described as the greatest Jesus scholar of his time.[2] (I retain the linked footnotes)

In the prologue Vermes reinforces his well-groundedness within the scholarly mainstream:

I have read a great deal over the years and learned much, positively and negatively, from other scholars. I have assimilated their learning and understanding and stored everything up in my heart. (p. 4) read more »

A Case for Interpolation Does NOT Rely On Manuscript Evidence

James McGrath has ridiculed any reference to an argument for interpolation if there is no manuscript evidence for it. But this simply avoids addressing the actual arguments that are sometimes advanced for an interpolation. By avoiding the arguments he sophistically reasons that if there is a claim for interpolation then he is equally free to say that an editor has removed the evidence that will support his case. One would expect evidence of more learning from an associate professor.

This post looks at arguments by scholars who give us strong reasons to accept the possibility, even likelihood, of interpolations in Paul’s letters despite absence of manuscript evidence.

Richard Carrier has an excellent blog post discussing two clear interpolations in Paul’s letters: 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. His conclusion should be seen in the context of what William O. Walker has described as a “culture of interpolations” in that era.

Firstly, Carrier’s conclusion to his blog post: read more »

James Brother of the Lord: Another Case for Interpolation

Never throw out old books. I have caught up with my 1942 edition of Jesus Not A Myth by A. D. Howell Smith. The book is an argument against mythicism as it was argued by a range of authors in its day: J. M. Robertson, Thomas Whittacker, L. Gordon Rylands, Arthur Drews, Bergh van Eysinga, L. Couchoud, Edouard Dujardin and W. B. Smith. It’s a refreshing book for its professional spirit and respectful tone, and for its acknowledgement of both weaknesses and strengths of the mythicist case.

Here are two excerpts from the discussion concerning the question of the Galatians 1:19 reference to James the brother of the Lord. Pages 76 and 77/8. Keep in mind that the author is arguing against mythicism and for the historicity of Jesus. He not only acknowledges the possibility of interpolation, but goes on to explain a possible motive for it. I have marked the argument for interpolation in bold type. read more »

Taking Eddy & Boyd seriously (5)

Eddy and Boyd’s fifth and final point in “the case for the authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16” is to address the theological contradiction that exists between it and Romans 9-11.

Here is the evidence.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. (Rom 10:1)

I magnify my ministry if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. (Rom 11:13-14)

And they [Israel, the Jews] also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (Rom 11:23)

And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And he will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
For this is my covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.
(Rom 11:26-27)

These thoughts in Romans do not sit easily with a passage (Thess 2:14-16) that blames the Jews for the death of Jesus and for filling up daily the full quota of all their sins, and proclaims that, for these reasons, God has poured out upon them his wrath with utter finality.

the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us . . . so as always to be filling up the measure of their sins, but wrath as come upon them to the uttermost/utter finality.

As Steven Carr has been pointing out in a comment here and on at least one other forum (FRDB), to describe the sin of crucifying and otherwise murdering Jesus and all the prophets as a condition of “continuing in unbelief” really just does not compute.

The difference between the Romans and 1 Thessalonians passages is as stark as day and night. So how to E&B handle this question? read more »

Taking Eddy & Boyd Seriously (4)

Continuing from Taking Eddy & Boyd Seriously (3) . . . .

Indicting “The Jews” for the murder of the Lord Jesus

Having insisted that 1 Thess 2:13-16 was indeed written by Paul, Eddy and Boyd (The Jesus Legend) must now attempt to argue that the contents of the passage are not antisemitic.

One of the slogans of antisemitism through the ages has been “the Jews killed Christ”. The author of this Thessalonians passage puts the blame for the death of Jesus squarely, solely and unequivocally on the Jews:

For you have suffered the same things from your own country-men, just as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us . . .

Birger A. Pearson (“1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: A Deutero-Pauline Interpolation” Harvard Theological Review (1971): 85) observes that in all other letters of Paul,

[Paul] never attributes the death of Jesus to the Jews. 1 Corinthians 2:8 is the best example of Paul’s own view: Jesus was brought to his death by the demonic “rulers of this age” who did not know that by doing so they would defeat themselves in the process.

(Pearson remarks in passing that Origen in his commentary on Matthew interprets “the rulers of this age” in this way.)

Eddy and Boyd’s “rebuttal” of the above

Could Paul really have accused the Jews of killing Christ? Why certainly! say E&B, but he didn’t mean to sound like he was blaming “all Jews”, or only the Jews, collectively:

There is simply no reason to suppose that Paul could not have believed that several groups — including some Jews and some secular authorities and/or spiritual powers — were responsible for bringing this event about. (213)

Note how E&B deftly convey the idea that only “some Jews” were indirectly responsible (“bringing this event about”) for the death of Christ. Only “some Jews”? That’s not what is said in 1 Thessalonians 2.

But what is the evidence E&B have that Paul did not write what he supposedly (according to E&B) believed? read more »

Taking Eddy & Boyd Seriously (3)

Continuing from Eddy and Boyd (2) . . . .

The argument that 1 Thess. 2:13-16 is an interpolation generally includes the claim that the passage refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. — some years after Paul’s time. The last line of this section is

. . . . But wrath has come upon them to the uttermost (or ‘at last’) (1 Thess 2:16)

1st E&B argument

Eddy and Boyd, in The Jesus Legend, attempt to argue for the genuineness of the passage by denying this would have originally referred to the destruction of Jerusalem:

There is no reason to assume that the reference to God’s wrath overtaking the Jews refers to the destruction of Jerusalem. . . . It is not even clear that the reference to God’s wrath must be understood as an observable event in history. (p. 213)

E&B appeal to Romans chapters 1 and 9 (and again to a passage in 2 Thessalonians, a letter that is also strongly argued as being a forgery) to suggest that the wrath of God might simply mean that He has abandoned them to ungodly behaviour and delusion.

2nd E&B argument

But if the passage does refer to a specific event, they claim that it could refer to the expulsion of the Jews under Claudius in 49 c.e.

So E&B fail to argue a case themselves. They merely point to a couple of contradictory views and in effect say,

Take your pick. Pick any weakly supported solution we can think of so long as it denies the passage is a post-Pauline interpolation. And oh, by the way, we are not going to even repeat for you the arguments of those who insist it refers to the destruction of Jerusalem. Why bother if we can think up anything that says the passage is genuine? We don’t want to confuse you with the details.

One wonders if E&B have any idea (or if they even want to know) what it means. If the reader doesn’t like one explanation, then give them a choice so they can take one they are comfortable with. They outline no real argument for or against either conclusion. This is hardly making a “case for the historical reliability” of Jesus or the purity (no interpolations) of our Pauline letters.

3rd E&B argument

They also assert that the phrase “at last” or “to the uttermost” literally means “to (or until) the end”, and one can think of this meaning paralleling Jesus’ prophecy of future judgment at the end of the age. That is, E&B inform readers that the passage may simply mean that God’s judgment is on the Jews until the coming of Christ.

What Eddy and Boyd don’t tell their readers read more »

Taking Eddy & Boyd Seriously (2)

Eddy and Boyd are often touted as having written some sort of authoritative rebuttal of arguments sceptical of “the historical reliability of the Synoptic Jesus tradition”, but as I began to show in my earlier part 1 post, and will continue here, their work

  •  misrepresents specific arguments they claim to refute;
  •  demonstrates a shoddiness, sometimes bordering on intellectual dishonesty.

Uncharitable post?

One commenter said I lack a sense of charity or humanity when I speak harshly against certain authors. I sometimes think he might have a point, and I reconsider. But other times I confess I have little patience with public intellectuals who are looked to as authorities yet whose work demonstrates a lack of respect for the integrity of their public audiences and/or the logical norms of wider scholarly discourse, and who substitute these for popular or partisan assertions and obfuscations.

“The Case for the Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16” (Part 2)

Continuing from my Part 1 post, here is the passage under discussion: read more »