Buffeting History

The exchange with Kent over his view of the TR/KJV has caused me to go fetch Wilbur Pickering’s the Identity of the New Testament Text (which, incidentally, is out of print), and I have been paging through his arguments for the priority of the Byzantine text type.

Here’s the place where I couldn’t take it anymore. Between pages 129 and 134, Pickering tries to answer the question of why there is no early witness to the Byzantine text family earlier in the archeological record. Now, I kid you not, his argument is three-fold:

[1] The early Byzantine-type texts wore out, which is why you can’t find them – in the same way that you can’t really find any small churches in Europe of the medieval period but you can find cathedrals, (because the small churches fell apart and were never repaired) you can’t find any Byzantine manuscripts because they wore out with use and were destroyed after they were copied.

[2] The reason for seeing other text types is that they were abandoned and not used, therefore they were better preserved.

[3] However, the reason that the Alexandrian text type isn’t well-represented in the later texts is that it was abandoned by the churches as inferior.

Now, yeah: I know. Plenty to blog about there. Let’s remember that this is an out-of-print book which is representing what I have already called a cultic view of the text of the Greek NT. What I want to do is show you something about the history of the church here.

Look at this map:

That’s a Google map of the Mediterranean region, with drop-pin “A” as the site of actual Alexandria – the locus classicus (as they say) of the Alexandrian text type. The purple stuff is the penetration of the Christian church in this region c. 500AD, more or less. And by “more or less”, I didn’t attempt to do a city clock by city block census of the ancient world to make sure I had all the hard lines drawn.

But I provide that to show that the Christian church in 500 AD had a very broad geographic expanse in a world where there was no blogs, no radio or TV, no newspapers or moveable type, and the means of mass producing paper didn’t exist. That is to say: that’s a big world in which to communicate with quill pens and scrolls and the primary means of spreading the New Testament around. They didn’t have a 50-cent ESV to had out.

In that, it’s not surprising that the text of the NT had some variation from place to place and church to church. Unless someone is willing to say (and they are) that much of this map is actually populated with non-churches which were proliferating non-scripture in order to create non-orthodoxy, if you walked around the Christian world in 500 AD what you’d find is a certain diversity of text-types. The archeological record is clear on that.

Now, look at this map:

And think about this – this is the same region in 800 AD, only 300 years later. The blue stuff is the encroachment of Islam on the Christian world – and as you can see, Alexandria is plainly over-run by 800 AD. It’s not a massive surprise, then, that by 800AD the Alexandrian text type is almost non-existent by 800 AD: those who were using it were being, um, evangelized by Islam, and the Christian texts they had previously revered were being discarded and frankly destroyed by the religious policies of Islam.

That state of affairs was true well into the 19th century, which is when archeological research was able to recover many texts which represented what those churches had in terms of religious texts.

Now, here’s my point: whether you buy Pickering’s point [1] or [2], his point [3] is so far-fetched when compared to what historically happened as to rate as the worst kind of historical revisionism. If his view is that it is as-likely for a text type to survive under severe persecution as it is to survive under the official sanction of the government, I think he needs to thinkl about what he’s saying, and what part of history he is talking about.

On with you. History is not a buffet. You must eat your vegetables and not just the Jello and the pudding.