Monday, April 07, 2014

Drops of blood?

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 
45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46
The verses in the middle of this passage have always bothered me. Verse 44 in particular, but verse 43 is odd too. I don't think I've ever noticed the footnote that is included in the NIV which notes that "Many early manuscripts do not have verses 43 and 44." 

It seems that most modern translations of the bible err on the side of caution when it comes to verses that aren't in some manuscripts. The assumption seems to be that it is more likely that some scribe would have accidentally missed out some words or verses while copying a passage, than that some scribe would have intentionally added in extra words or verses while copying. So all 'occasional' passages are included in the bible. I suppose the intention is to make sure that our modern bibles contain the entire 'Word of God' and don't inadvertently cut some bits of divine inspiration out. I guess there is also an element of assuming that ancient copyists had modern evangelical values as well - the vast majority of Christians today wouldn't dream of adding something they'd made up and trying to pass it off as inspired scripture.

But what if some of the occasional passages were really scribal inventions, and not part of the original? Well then, some of what we read cannot be the inspired Word of God. (Of course, the whole thing may not be inspired, but that's a debate for a different post.)

I've been thinking about this as these verses were quoted twice in church today, and I'm currently reading Bart Ehrman's "The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture" (which is basically the longer and more scholarly version of his book "Misquoting Jesus") and I've just (last night) read the bit where he discusses these verses. Its almost like somebody is trying to draw my attention to the fact that these verses aren't part of the original.

Ehrman makes a very compelling case (which apparently is a summary of another of his publications) for the inauthenticity of verses 43 and 44. The verses are not only out of character in Luke as a whole, they actually break the literary pattern of the passage and appear to go against the flow of the message Luke seems to be trying to make.

With these verses in context, the passion account in Luke is similar in theme and emphasis to the passion accounts of Mark and Matthew, where an anguished Jesus agonises about the ordeal he is about to undergo. But without them, Luke's passion loses all of its, well, erm, its passion. All of a sudden we get a story of a very calm and collected Jesus who accepts his fate with serenity and seems totally in control of the situation. Much more like John's Jesus, in fact, although John has no prayer in the garden.

All very interesting. But to me this highlights the different agendas of the different gospel writers. And, indeed, the different Jesus characters they present. The more I read the gospels and the more I read about them, the more I see that they are not unified with a single gospel message.

1 comment:

LadyAtheist said...

I'm currently reading his latest book, How Jesus became God. There are lots of passages that were later additions, and the entire book of John is totally suspect.