Friday, January 28, 2011

"The White Man": Pericope or Excision?

Recently "The White Man" posted the following short discussion on Nazaroo's blog, and we thought it should be put here also for those interested in it.  The post discusses the meaning of "pericope" and the evidence of excision for the PA:

The Pericope Adulterae: What's in a name?

In any debate, in order to start out with a level playing field, it's important to agree ahead of time on a definition of terms. This is because "He who defines the terms wins the debate." I suspect that this may have already happened before one particular discussion even got out of the starting gate, because of the name by which all scholars refer to that passage of Scripture located at John 7:53-8:11. In using their term, we have all but conceded the debate.

Actually, there two terms used, but that concedes nothing. "Pericope Adulterae" and "Pericope de Adultera" both mean essentially the same thing in Latin. "Pericope," from the Greek word meaning 'to cut out', in its ecclesiastical meaning refers to a portion of Scripture that is used separately in a public reading. It's synonymous with the Latin-derived word 'excerpt.' The rest of the phrase simply means 'of, or concerning, the adulteress.'

There are two huge problems with using this term in regards to John 7:53-8:11. First of all, the overwhelming tendency with this passage has not been to cut it out from its greater context in the Gospel of John, but to cut the rest of John out from it. It is being excised, not excerpted. And this has been the tendency of all who separate it from the rest of John for as far back as the history of the public reading of pericopes reaches. If this indeed be a pericope, it is like none other in the entire Bible.

Secondly, despite what its detractors may call this passage, it's not "the passage concerning the adulteress." That is to say, any "pericope of the adulteress," should we chose to identify one, runs from John 8:3 to the end of verse eleven; but they start theirs way back in the previous chapter. We could, for the sake of being reasonable, even stretch things out a bit to set the scene, and begin at the start of the chapter. But under no circumstances does it make any sense to begin a story that takes place in the temple courts with the sentence, "And then everybody went home."

In other words, the very structure of this so-called pericope belongs to something that was cut out of a passage, not because it had any coherent structure of its own, but because it contained whatever was necessary to leave the least trace of its excision behind in the broader context from which it was cut out. So what should we call this passage? I suggest, as a working title, The Johannine Excision.

But whoever excised this passage didn't do a very good job of sizing it; it still doesn't fit. As the mutilated context now stands, we go directly from the priests talking to Nicodemus, to Jesus "speaking to them again." But he's not speaking to the priests--he's addressing the people last mentioned in 7:43. So in order to have a coherent context left behind, the Johannine Excision should have really begun at 7:44--not nine verses later. This would have been the best way for the Exciser to cover his tracks--including verse 53 in the excision didn't quite cut it.

Of course, had he not included verse 53, we would have the problem of the pericope beginning with the word 'but.' Not in the King James version--which does not pericope this passage--but in those that do. And we know that pericopes don't start with 'but.' And verse two (although not in the English versions) has the same problem! Alas, so does verse three. So, having to cut somewhere, the Exciser went all the way back to the first verse that started otherwise, settling for beginning the whole story with the word 'and.'  Why he didn't just finish up his hatchet job by going clear back to the end of the previous story, instead of starting with the end of the present one, we don't know. Apparently he wasn't quite willing to cut out the only mention in the gospels of the priests' Bible Study recommendation for the day.

So, to recap, this is no Pericope--a passage cut out from its context in order to be read publicly. It's an Excision--a passage deliberately (and rather clumsily) removed from its context in order to avoid having to read it publicly. And despite the almost universally successful (at the time) efforts to erase it from Scripture, it yet remained, down through the ages. And it has remained, even in this day of tarnished translations and duplicitous definitions--despite all the still-clumsy efforts to set it aside from a context that still doesn't quite scan without it.

And if it's not a Pericope, we have no business referring to it as one--especially those of us who actually see it as something that was there to cut out to begin with.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Translating Adultery (Passive/Active verb)

 At the Wordpress blog, "God Didn't Say that!", Joel Hoffman recently posted the following, which has a pertinent bearing on the interpretation of John 8:1-11 (the Pericope Adultera):

Adultery in Matthew 5:32

Adultery and Matthew 5:32

According to Matthew 5:32, divorcing a woman causes her to commit adultery.
But Peter Kirk notices that the new NIV (“NIV 2011″) translation has a new take on the verse. Peter writes:
One rather odd change I noticed, which some might attribute to political correctness: in Matthew 5:32 the “adulteress” (1984, TNIV) is no longer a wrongdoer but has become “the victim of adultery” (2011).
More specifically, the NIV 2011 translates:
But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
It’s a fascinating and complicated issue.

What Victim?

At first glance, the introduction of “victim” seems uncalled for. The NRSV, for example, representing the usual translation of the verse, goes with (my emphasis):
I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife … causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
The usual translation makes the case look entirely parallel. A divorcee does the same thing as the man who marries a divorcee. They both “commit adultery.”
But the original is more nuanced.

Active and Passive Adultery

The original Greek uses the verb moicheuo (“commit adultery”) twice. It’s true that marrying a divorcee is moicheuo-ing, that is, committing adultery. But divorcing a woman is to cause her to be moicheuo-ed, or to have adultery committed against her. That is, the first verb is passive and the second is active. The man and the woman here do not do the same thing, according to the Greek.
We don’t have a convenient passive for “commit adultery” in English, but we can look at another verb to get one sense of the original Greek. “A man who cheats on his wife causes her to be deceived, and a man who cheats on another’s wife deceives her.” Whatever the merits of my new sentence, we see that replacing “to be deceived” with “deceives” changes the meaning. “A man who cheats on his wife causes her to deceive…” does not mean the same thing as “…causes her to be deceived….”
Similarly, the usual translation pair “causes her to commit adultery” / “[he] commits adultery” does not mean the same thing as “causes her to have adultery committed against her” / “[he] commits adultery.”
So far, the NRSV (representing the usual translation of the verse) seems wrong, because it doesn’t reflect the change from passive to active. And the NIV2011 is starting to look pretty good. Even though “makes her the victim of adultery” isn’t exactly the same thing as “causes her to have adultery committed against her,” the NIV’s rendition has the merit of being considerably less awkward.

What does the Passive Mean?

However, the matter is even more complicated, because when a man and woman both commit adultery in the Bible, the verb describing the man’s act is active, but the woman’s act is sometimes passive, even though many modern speakers of English would call what they are doing the same thing, and even though those same speakers of English would use an active verb in both places.
For instance, John 8:4 describes a woman who “was caught in the act of [committing] adultery.” But the Greek verb there is passive. Does John 8:4 really mean “a woman caught in the act of having adultery committed against her”?
Maybe not. Maybe moicheuo is similar to the English “widow” and “widower.” In that modern case, a man whose spouse had died is a “widower” (having done something), while a woman whose spouse has died is a “widow” (having had something done to her).
In other words, the passive/active distinction in the Greek of Matthew 5:32 may, like John 8:4, reflect the purely grammatical matter that moicheuo means for a “man to commit adultery against a woman,” just like “to widow” means for a “man to leave a woman spouseless.”
Hosea 4:13-14, however, works against this hypothesis and makes matters even more complex, because in Hosea, the active verb moicheuo is used for the women who commit adultery.

Another Active/Passive Example

In this regard, we might also consider the concept of a “foster” parent or child in English. When a child and a parent enter into a foster relationship, the child is a “foster” child and the parent is a “foster” parent. But in a very similar relationship, the child is adopted (passive) while the parent adopts (active). Is the passive/active distinction between “to adopt” and “to be adopted” merely grammatical, or does it represent our modern view that the parents have done something to the children?


One central question about Matthew 5:32 is whether the active/passive distinction in the Greek verb moicheuo represents a mere grammatical fact or a difference in the role of an adulterous man and an adulterous woman. I think it’s the latter.
Another central question is whether “commit adultery” in English works the same way. I think it does not. So sometimes we may need the active “commit adultery” for the passive of moicheuo.
A third question is how the different roles of the man and woman may have been seen.

An Answer

Returning to Matthew 5:32, it seems to me that both the NRSV (and similar translations) and the NIV2011 get it wrong. The NRSV wrongly suggests that what the man and woman are doing is the same thing, while the original assumption (like “adopt” and “be adopted”) was that they are doing different things. The NIV2011, however, wrongly suggests that the woman is a victim, while the original (as we see by comparing John 8:4) did not consider her to be (only?) a victim.
So we need a translation that shows that the man and woman do different things, even though they are both (equally?) culpable.
Any suggestions?

As a result, the poster ended up with a long list of hundreds of comments, many of them quite interesting and lively on their own, and dealing with all kinds of related issues, such as the interpretation of the Torah in the Talmud, the question of Greek versus Hebrew understanding of the teachings of Jesus,  the Jewishness of Jesus and His teaching, etc. etc.

Our suggestion is that after reading the original blog-post, you also read some of the many technical and interesting comments at the original site.

Here is the link:


Friday, January 21, 2011

David R. Palmer on the PA (Pt II)

We revisit David's comments on the PA with some news and an evaluation by Mr. Palmer himself, as a result of his courteous replies to inquiry at TC-Alternate-List on Yahoo Groups.

In Mr. Palmer's published English Translation of the NT online (previously linked), he added a large footnote on the PA (at the end of John) for consideration as follows:


John 7:53- 8:11

PROBLEM: Did the apostle John, the author of the gospel of John, write this section? Did the apostles who laid the scriptural foundation for the church intend that this story of the woman caught in adultery be part of that foundation? Does the passage have weight and authority equal to that of scripture?
Textual & Patristic Evidence
This passage is not found in any Greek manuscript dated before the 5th century. It is not found in the earliest translations of the Bible into other languages, such as the old Syriac, 4th century; the old Latin, 4th century; the Georgian Bible, 5th century; the Slavic Bible, and the Coptic Bible, as late as the 9th century. It was not in the gospel of John when the decision was made to include John in the canons of scripture: the Muratorian Canon, A.D. 170; Codex Barococcio, A.D. 206; Eusebius' "Ecclesiastical History,"  c. 340; the Council of Hippo, A.D. 393; and the Council of Carthage, A.D. 397.  No Greek church father prior to the 12th century comments on the passage.
Vocabulary Evidence
Moreover, when you translate this passage from the Greek, you see that there is a very marked change in the style of Greek, compared to the rest of the gospel of John. The most obvious change is in the more frequent use of the particle "δε" all of a sudden, and conversely a sudden decrease in the use of the particle "ουν".

On the style of Greek, you can check it out yourself and see, that the passage John 7:53 to 8:11 is not written in the style of John. John does not use the Greek word "δε" near as often as the other gospel writers, but in this passage, it is found MUCH more often than in the rest of John.

Out of the other 867 verses in the gospel of John, the word "δε" is found 203 times, or in an average of 23% of the verses, while in these 12 verses, John 7:53 to 8:11, the word "δε" is found 11 times, or an average of 92% of the verses. Another change in style is an increase of participial phrases. For these reasons and others, I feel no uncertainty in flatly declaring that the passage is not written in the style of the apostle John.
Mainstream Opinion
Probably the foremost authority on questions of authenticity of passages in the Greek text is the book A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, by Bruce M. Metzger on behalf of and in cooperation with the Editorial Committee of the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament: Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger, and Allen Wikgren."
        [Here Mr. Palmer quotes Bruce Metzger on the PA from his book,  A Textual Commentary... (1971), p 219 fwd, 4 paragraphs of discussion]

Mr. Palmer continues,

'The Committee included it in its traditional place "in deference to its antiquity." But they omitted scores of other passages that are even older than the pericope. So why did they choose to include this particular passage? Probably because of its relatively large size, and because it is so well known and loved. They are unanimous that the passage is not original holy writ, but include it because it probably is truth.
However, I would like the criterion for inclusion of a passage to be not whether or not it is true, but whether or not the apostles intended it to have the authority of scripture. Truth and authority are not the same. “2+2=4” is truth, but it is not scripture. God did not inspire one of his apostles or prophets to put it among the foundational truths that are authoritative original holy writ. So it is with the Pericope of the Adulteress. I would think we want our translations of the gospel of John to be 100% pure scripture, all the real thing.

Nevertheless, I decided to include the passage in the text of John, with a
footnote indicating that it may not be original scripture. Though I personally consider it New Testament pseudepigrapha, I know it is a beloved story. So I decided to leave it in my text of the gospel of John, considering that it probably does no harm, unlike the spurious ending that tradition has added on to the gospel of Mark."

As one can see, Mr. Palmer gives a lot of space to Metzger and the status quo

However, Metzger's opinion is some 50 years old, and hardly takes into account the latest internal and patristic evidence regarding the PA.

That is why I put it to David, as to whether he has softened his position or modified his views in any way since penning this, because I am sure he has become aware of a wider diversity of opinion on this than seems represented by the above quotation, as well as more recent evidence.

Mr. Palmer responded promptly and courteously as follows, in his replies:

"...yes, what I wrote in the gospel of John I did about 13 years ago.  I would say that I do not have as strong an opinion as then, that the  pericope is not original.  I want to say that this variant, though large, is  not as terribly weighty a one to me as it seems to some.  What I  mean is, to many participants in the discussion about it, it seems fraught to them with life or death, salvation or loss thereof, orthodoxy, that is, a tenet of faith as to whether one believes it is original or not.   That makes it hard for me to want to listen to them, or read their writings with a relaxed, open mind.
What remains to be proven, is what caused the pericope to be absent in so many manuscripts.  The lectionary reading boundaries theory is plausible, but I am not 100% convinced.
But what I hear you all saying is that I should tone down my summary, or at least given some clue that that is old phrasing from Metzger.  I may look into doing that.
I should say also that patristic evidence is not very weighty to me; indeed, I deeply distrust them.  It is my belief that the church, very early on, rebelled against instructions received about leadership and church polity and rapidly resumed the natural man’s tendency to elevate human traditions, new and old, over the holy writings themselves.  Such that very soon we had popery, and a departure from whole leadership of the Holy Spirit."
David Robert Palmer

I am delighted to post both Mr. Palmer's original notes, as well has his timely update on them.

I would only add, that regarding his older discussion of the two vocabulary items,"δε" and "ουν",  we have a newer article on those very words and their usage in John, available here:

On DE and OUN

As well, one can also read onsite a larger, more comprehensive discussion of the full vocabulary question from Dr. Punch, here:

J.D. Punch on the PA


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

J. Borland on John 8:6 (μη προσποιουμενος)

The following is taken from Jonathan's post on Textual Criticism Yahoo Groups (Willker's group):
Re: [textualcriticism] John 8:6 - as though he heard them not - Beza Greek editions and possible annotation ? 
(Dec 26 , 2010, Msg #6199)

Dear List,

The internal character of the expression MH PROSPOIOUMENOS in most (3/4 [?]) of the manuscripts that contain John 7:53-8:11 suggests that it occupied a place in the earliest strands of the tradition. Note that this opinion opposes that of von Soden who maintains that the m1-m2-m3 groups are earliest, although in this case many manuscripts of the m1 group actually contain the expression.
The difficulty of determining the expression's meaning could have motivated its removal in Greek witnesses, and such expressions typically bothered translators. For example, how should the construction be expressed in Latin? One could simply use _dissimulans_, but still it is unclear: does Jesus write "concealing" what he was writing, or did he write while "ignoring" them, or something else? One could try to interpret the meaning, and depending on the result end up with various options, just two of which are: _simulans se eos non audivisse_ "pretending that he did not hear them," or, causally, _cum eos non audivisset_ "because he did not hear them." Note that the last possibility would allow for an accidental omission of the expression in Latin by way of homeoarchton error (cum...cum), but this theoretical possibility is far less likely than the alternative, namely, that the expression was removed either because it was difficult to understand or because it was difficult to imagine Jesus dissembling or pretending or deceiving, etc.
In my Master's thesis on the Old Latin tradition of John 7:53-8:11 I briefly discuss several places where early Greek witnesses may depend on the Latin tradition based on transcriptional errors that occur in Latin but not in Greek. If further investigation confirms such Greek dependence on the very early and influential Old Latin tradition, it is possible to suggest that the absence of the expression MH PROSPOIOUMENOS in the influential Latin tradition contributed to its absence in a number of manuscripts of the Greek tradition.

Jonathan C. Borland