A More Fluid Tool for Textual Criticism? A Really Sloppy Test Case with John 1:34

So I’m debating whether to develop a project down the line dealing with text criticism (external evidence at least), and I want to put this idea out there and see if anyone thinks it might be fruitful.

Basically the problem has to do with the dating of manuscripts. First, dates inherently include margins of error, whether from carbon-dating, paleography, or other variables. These may be wide, hidden in that “circa.” Second, not all scholars working directly on dating the manuscripts agree with each other on how to narrow things down. One thinks the handwriting looks second century, another fourth. The use of the nomina sacra points one way, the binding on the papyrus another. It seems like the general solution is to pick the most convincing from among arguments which, without the manuscripts in hand (and the proper training), it may be difficult to judge. If we are qualified, it may be the case that the handwriting leans one way and the binding another — we should not dismiss the variance suggested by the data we have.

Granted, if the datings range from 150 to 400, some scholars may be bound to be right, and others wrong. But there is no way of deciding that without more data. It becomes an arbitrary choice between Type I and Type II errors.

And when we pick the dating we prefer, we tend to artificially narrow it down. A dating of 175-225 in the original study becomes ca. 200, which then becomes rigid as it is cited and cited again.

But think about two manuscripts with datings of 175-225, but with different readings. You might find scholars who say, “Both readings are equally as old.” But by the estimates, there could be 50 years or more separating the two. And think about the Church Fathers writing in those years: Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian… These were theologically and scripturally active decades where fights were being fought over the authority of Scripture on a number of important points. The critical change could easily have happened within that 50-year span.

Is there not a more comprehensive, nuanced way to look at the transmission of readings in the various manuscripts that testify to them?

What I’m thinking of working on is a way to aggregate the various studies done on manuscripts to get a more fluid idea about how prevalent a reading was at a given time. Here is one really, really sloppily done example.

John 1:34 gives three different readings, in which John the Baptist testifies that Jesus is:

  • God’s Son (ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ)
  • God’s Chosen One (ὁ ἐκλεκτὸς τοῦ θεοῦ)
  • Chosen Son (electus filius)

Each reading has its defenders, and no particular internal argument has won the day. Even English versions give different readings: CEV, KJV, NASB, and NRSV give “Son of God,” while NIV and NLT have “God’s Chosen One.” One appears in p66, the other (apparently) in p75, both of them early.

I took 17 early manuscripts (dated no later than the 7th century), and (again very sloppily) aggregated the various datings for each manuscript. The more diverse conclusions, or the fewer studies, the wider the margins of error. The result I got was this:

John 1 34

Does this make sense to people?

I should highlight that these levels of prevalence have margins of error that are wider the earlier on we look, so this would have to be refined to show that. But despite the similar dating of the earliest manuscripts for “Son” and “Chosen,” “Son” aggregates higher early on. One thing I found interesting is that “Chosen” seems to increase until it is almost 45% of the evidence around 270, when “Son” gets as low as 53%. It’s at this point, when the two readings are close to 50/50, that the conflation, “Chosen Son,” begins to rise. This would seem to suggest that Chosen Son is indeed a conflation and not the original reading, created (or gaining popularity) in response to the likelihood of seeing manuscripts of both types.

Does that sound like a fruitful way to look at this?

Other things to look at potentially:

  • Refining this data, drawing in later manuscripts as well and addressing margins of error in these estimates.
  • Comparing, for example, the Western text to the population or to another group of texts.
  • Using this to test readings against turning point dates (i.e. manuscripts we are, say, 90% sure are prior to 270 or 350 with mss we are 90% sure are later — is there a significant difference in their reading of John 1:34? And what does this tell us?).

I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts!


Gendering Pre-Creation: Mixter Tehom and Supernatural

As it will from time to time, an interesting coincidence has just popped up between my scholarly hobbies and my “I seriously can’t think anymore, I just want to watch TV” ones. The coincidence has to do with the cultural concept of gender, and how we read that into the Genesis account, and how popular literature reflects cultural constructs.

Recently I’ve been working on a review of Teresa J. Hornsby and Deryn Guest’s Transgender, Intersex, and Biblical Interpretation for Catholic Biblical Quarterly. Hornsby and Guest present a “trans hermeneutic,” by which they pay attention to transgender issues and, more broadly, how gender is constructed in the Bible. The book is quite good — I would have even appreciated a longer volume that gave them more time to flesh out some of their ideas.

Guest contributes an essay on Genesis, “Troubling the Waters: תְּהוֹם, Transgender, and Reading Genesis Backward.” Here she lingers in the opening verses of Gen 1:1-2 to explore the potential theophany in the abyss, in the darkness. She argues that tehom, the abyss, has signs that it could be taken as a proper, personal noun: it lacks an article (it is not “the abyss,” but rather “darkness was on the face of tehom“), tehom is given anthropomorphic verbs (it crouches [Gen 49:25; Deut 33:13] and speaks [Hab 3:10]), and it takes on a role in the Genesis myth that is elsewhere played by a personification of chaos conquered by the creator god(s).

If we want to view tehom as personal, there are difficulties with assigning gender: “But תְּהוֹם is a queer noun: masculine in form, yet usually appearing as a female noun, but occasionally given a masculine suffix (e.g., “his voice” in Hab 3:10). It is, intriguingly, a gender-shifting word” (p. 25). For this reason, Guest labels the personified abyss “Mixter Tehom,” a title taken from trans communities (in place of Mr., Ms., etc.) to highlight its gender fluidity. Such fluidity is appropriate to the abyss, and to the time in which Mx. Tehom exists, prior to the gender boundaries erected later in the story. Guest’s essay then concentrates on how we can understand a God who chose to exist in communion with Mx. Tehom prior to creation — and it is really worth a read.

Other terms contribute to the fluidity and lack of precise orientation in the opening verses of Genesis. This space was “formless and void” (i.e. it required transition, transformation in order to achieve its present self), and again, “darkness” was on Mx. Tehom’s face.

This brings me to Supernatural, a goofy show about two brothers who hunt monsters, but which takes much of its mythos from the Bible. The show will feature heavily in a chapter I am writing about the use of fake biblical texts in horror, which will appear in the book, Monstrous Manuscripts. In a later season (like 37? 38? There are so many seasons of this show…), the main antagonist is the Darkness, which is released when the mark of Cain is removed from one of the brothers, who only had it so he could wield the first blade to kill Abaddon… it’s a whole thing.

The Darkness, or Amara, is God’s sister whom he (definitely male) had to sacrifice by locking her up in order to create the universe. In other words, Supernatural embraces the chaos myth while recasting it as a family drama (and introducing a dualistic, gnostic theology). The use of sibling rivalry is not surprising. In earlier seasons, Lucifer’s rebellion was written as a squabble between he and his brothers (the other archangels), brought on because God is more or less a deadbeat dad on Supernatural, and again, this whole mess began because one of the brothers had the mark of Cain (given to Cain by Lucifer, who received it from Amara… and we’re back).

What was notable to me was the genderification of the Light and the Darkness. Although God has (surreptitiously) appeared in the form of a man already, and he is referred to as Father by the angels, there is no reason to pin him down to a specific gender. Once he reduced to male (much of theology, including Psalm 22, be damned), with regard to the Darkness, the Hebrew word, חֹ֫שֶׁך, is also masculine, and one would expect a show so obsessed with brotherly conflict to embrace the possibility of writing it into the fabric of their universe. Maybe they just wanted something different. Instead the siblings, for the first time in like 83 seasons, are brother and sister.

I imagine this has something to do with presenting God (or “Chuck” – spoilers!) and Amara as opposites:

  • God is the Light, Amara is the Darkness.
  • God embraces freedom and distance, Amara wants subjugation and union.
  • God is absent and unfindable, Amara is present and easily approachable.
  • God is male, Amara is female.

There are of course differences that the writers do not impose on them. Both are straight (one downside of ret-conning Chuck as God is that God has now had sex with and then been dumped by other characters on the show), both are American, white, good-looking, able-bodied, of average height, both have typical emotionality, and both spend an inordinate amount of time in places like Nebraska. In other words, both are normal as the writers see it, so their opposition has to happen within that normality. Men and women are, to them, opposites situated within normality. So one is a man, the other a woman.

One reading of Gen 1:1-2 is considered and thought out, and the other mines the verses for another monster for its brothers to fight. I doubt Supernatural is consciously making a philosophical statement. But within this absence of thought, the show helps to reinforce not only a binary gender dynamic, but specifically binary gender opposition. Many more people will watch Supernatural season 113 on Netflix than Guest’s essay, and for them one more block will be added to an ideological wall between male and female.

The Originality of the Story of Jesus and the Adulteress (John 7:53-8:11), Part III: Internal Evidence against the PA

Math trigger warning: For the Americans — there are numbers in this post, but you don’t have to calculate any yourselves.


So far we have shown that paying attention to the proportion of unique words in a short passage like the PA shows that it is not significantly different from other undisputed Johannine passages of similar length. Stories about unique topics tend toward unique vocabulary. However, the same metric is also incapable of showing that several passages from the Synoptic gospels were not from John. It appears that unique words are not a sensitive enough, or informative enough, metric to do what we want it to. Granted neither author in the dispute appeals to unique words alone, but in concert with other observations. What we might say is that the PA continues to pass Heil’s test, unlike, say, the longer ending of Mark or a passage from Josephus. It is just that passing this test is a fairly low bar.

One problem is that it considers only unique words, and then not with any sense of proportion. For example, παραγίνομαι appears in John 8:2. It also appears one other time in John 3:23, so it is not unique to the PA, but it is hardly Johannine either. However, it appears 12 times in the Synoptic gospels. We would expect it to appear only about three times as often in the Synoptics if the proportions were equal. Indeed Luke uses the particular form, παρεγένετο, three times on its own (8:19; 11:6; 19:16). So this term would seem to be substantially more in line with Synoptic usage than Johannine.

Therefore I set out to get a sense of how the weight of each word shifted the balance of the passage. John has roughly 15,471 words, while the Synoptics have a combined 49,024. I say “roughly” because I did not do a very thorough job of vetting the count (e.g. taking into account textual variants): I copied and pasted NA28 into Word and did a word count. Still, John has about 24.1% of the words in the gospels. If its usage of a particular word is proportional, then it should appear in John about 24.1% of the time. Significantly more, and we can say that it is statistically Johannine. Significantly less, and it is statistically Synoptic. An example of a significantly Johannine word is ἐρωτῶντες in 8:7. John uses ἐρωτάω 27 times outside of this passage (55.1%), the Synoptics only 22 (44.9%). A 95% confidence interval around the sample proportion of 55.1% does not go low enough to include the population proportion of 24.1%, so John uses the verb significantly more often than the Synoptics.

I went through the words of John 7:53-8:11 and did word counts on the ones that do not appear more than 500 times in the gospels – no methodological decision, just laziness on my part. Obviously if one were to apply a method like this with more rigor, a count of every word should be done. At any rate, this turned up 76 words, with the following results:


Significantly Synoptic Words 29 38.2%
No Significant Difference 38 50.0%
Significantly Johannine Words 9 11.8%

While half the words do not swing significantly one way or the other, more than three times as many words are significantly Synoptic than are Johannine. The character of the vocabulary is more in line with the Synoptics than with typical Johannine usage. Many of the Johannine words are not terribly interesting: “again” (πάλιν), “how” (ποῦ), “no one” (οὐδείς), and “now” (νῦν). But the argument regarding these words could go either way: on the one hand, they are not typical Johannine words, but on the other hand, they are not likely to be conscious markers of style or interest. In other words, they may be terms that an author is more likely to use as a tic, and so could still be stylistically useful.

By comparison, I did the same analysis with John 2:1-12, with the following results:


Significantly Synoptic Words 24 30.4%
No Significant Difference 30 38.0%
Significantly Johannine Words 25 31.6%

Here there is one more significantly Johannine word, with the results less skewed toward the middle. The Johannine words are also more substantial: disciple, Jews, water, know (οἶδα), keep, manifest, glory, and believe are among them. “Cana” is recalled in another passage (John 4:46), indicating that where the end of John 4 goes, 2:1-12 goes with it. It also appears in 21:2, and while some would argue that John 21 is not absolutely original to John (although never absent in the manuscripts), that it connects Nathanael (1:43-51) to Cana (2:1-12) suggests that the story in question was already in the manuscript even if John 21 were added after the fact. So despite some words that are odd for John but integral to the story (wedding, mother, call, and wine among them), the Johannine words still take the lead in a substantial way.

Another way to look at these words is to actually weigh them. For example, John uses the word “house” 4 times outside of PA, while the Synoptics use it 56 times. But the Synoptics have more than three times as many words as John, so of course it might appear there more often! However, if we scale the Synoptic number back proportionally to John, then 56 would scale down to 17.67, still more than four times more often than in John. Put another way, the difference is 13.67 in favor of the Synoptics. Paying attention to absolute numbers (although scaled) gives a sense of relative weight. If John uses “Cana” twice outside of John 2:1-12 while the Synoptics never use it, and John uses οἶδα 82 times to the Synoptics’ 71 times (22.4 scaled), they are both significantly Johannine, but οἶδα is more heavily Johannine. It carries more weight.

Applying this to the vocabulary of both stories draws the following results, with a negative result leaning toward the Synoptics and a positive result toward John:


PA John 2:1-12
Total -149.7 319.4
Average -1.97 4.04
Standardized -1.63 1.94
p-value 5.37% 2.8%

The score for John 2:1-12 leans quite a bit more heavily toward John than does the PA toward the Synoptics, but the PA still leans toward the Synoptics. While the wedding at Cana has a significant result (p = 2.8%), PA is not quite significant at α = 5%. Then again, this was rather sloppily done. With more attention to detail, PA’s p-value could feasibly slip below 5%. A more refined study would be necessary before drawing any hard conclusions, but it would appear that, when taking more information about the vocabulary of each passage into account, the PA is less like John than unique words alone would suggest.


I don’t think the PA is original to John. The external evidence alone convinces me of that. If the language were more characteristically Johannine, I might agree that it was written by John’s group as part of a later addition, or at least in imitation of John in order to be fit into John. But some manuscripts of John lacking the thing would need to have gone out. Since the story floats around so much, it is more likely that it was a bit of free-floating tradition that ended up in various places in John more often than in Luke or attached to the end of the gospels.

People really love this story. It is an example of Jesus showing love and compassion to a lone woman about to have her bones literally crushed in by rocks, ganged up on by a team of people just trying to make a point. Bracketing it and putting it to the side makes them uncomfortable, and I appreciate that.

That it is not original to John is perhaps not the lesson we should take away from it. Say John was completed in the 90s, without this story. It may have survived for centuries before finding various places to be fit into John (and outside of it).

That means that the story survived for that long without the authority of being incorporated into a gospel. There were probably one-sheet versions of it floating around, but people probably just liked the story and told it to each other. They liked a story where the pronouncement was, “The one without sin should cast the first stone” — and nobody does. They liked the story despite its lack of authority, and they worked against the manuscript tradition in order to preserve the story and to give it authority.

That story does not make me uncomfortable.

The Originality of the Story of Jesus and the Adulteress (John 7:53-8:11), Part II: Testing the Metric

So in the last post we examined whether the story of Jesus and the adulteress (or PA for pericope adulterae, because we really can’t help ourselves) had significantly more words that appear nowhere else in John, relative to its length, than passages of similar length in John 2:1-12; 5:1-11; and 6:1-15. It turns out it didn’t. But I also ended that post with a question: how sensitive is this metric? Is it actually capable of differentiating between Johannine and non-Johannine passages? In other words, does it do what we want it to do?

If I were doing this more formally, I would establish methodological principles of comparison, and then apply them to find passages outside of John to test. But we can do this roughly here with a few passages from the Synoptics, and one text more or less contemporary to John and regarding Pharisees, but non-biblical: Josephus’s Jewish War.

Mark 3:20-30

This passage from Mark shows Jesus meeting a challenge from the scribes, as he does in the PA. It contains 169 words, 14 of which do not appear in John.

Matt 19:1-12

Here is another controversy story about an issue that otherwise does not come up in John: divorce. It also has the advantage of involving the Pharisees testing Jesus, as they do in the PA. It contains 213 words, 18 of which do not appear in John.

Luke 7:36-50

Here Jesus comes to the defense of another accused woman against a Pharisee in a dispute over her sexual sins. It contains 273 words, 26 of which do not appear in John.

Mark 16:9-20

In looking up the vocabulary in the PA, I noticed that some of its unique words also appear in the longer ending to Mark. This passage was probably also a later addition to a completed gospel, but relying on earlier traditions. It contains 169 words, 25 of which do not appear in John.

Josephus, Jewish War 2.3

Here is a passage from outside the New Testament, but also addressing a controversy involving the Pharisees. In this case, it regards the ongoing sacrifices in the temple during the Jewish revolt against Rome. It contains 169 words, 52 of which do not appear in John.


I ran χ2 analyses on each of these passages against the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12), the healing of the sick man (5:1-11), the multiplication of loaves (6:1-15), and the PA, and got the following p-values:


Mark 3:20-30 Matt 19:1-12 Luke 7:36-50 Mark 16:9-20 Jos., JW 2.3
John 2:1-12 83.3% 77.5% 55.8% 2.8% < 0.001%
John 5:1-11 36.9% 32.0% 19.9% 0.7% < 0.001%
John 6:1-15 35.8% 30.0% 16.6% 0.3% < 0.001%
John 7:53-8:11 73.8% 76.9% 97.6% 9.9% < 0.001%


Bolded p-values are significant (α = 5%).

On the one hand, the metric was unable to differentiate between Johannine material and passages in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. No significant p-values appear. There is no doubt these passages are not Johannine, yet looking at otherwise unique words cannot detect it. It is worth noting that the PA finds its closest comparison with Luke, since that is the other gospel in which it appears, but for all we know this is a fluke.

On the other hand, the longer ending of Mark was found consistently distinct from undisputed Johannine passages, but not from the PA. Furthermore, the metric found highly significant differences with Josephus across the board. So the metric is not completely useless, but it is not sensitive enough to separate Synoptic material from Johannine. That is, it is incapable of doing the job it’s been put to: one scholar thinks the passage sounds Johannine enough, and another thinks it sounds too Synoptic. The metric of unique words is apparently incapable of telling the difference, so a more sensitive one is needed. This is why conjectures like the one that played out in Heil’s and Wallace’s articles — that the number of unique words in such a short passage is at least partially indicative of narrative fit — need to be tested against controls.

That might not be possible with such a short passage, but in the next post we can look at some more nuanced measures that might help.

The Originality of the Story of Jesus and the Adulteress (John 7:53-8:11), Part I: Sticking My Nose into Someone Else’s Argument

Warning: As this post analyzes a text-critical question through statistics, it is uber-geeky. I know numbers give some people the hives, so watch out.


Recently I’ve been reviewing John Paul Heil’s new commentary on John (James Clarke & Co., 2016) for Reviews in Religion and Theology. In the commentary, Heil accepts the Pericope Adulterae (or PA), the story of Jesus and the adulteress usually found in John 7:53-8:11. It is a famous story: the Pharisees pretend to stone a woman caught in adultery; Jesus steps in and demands that the one without sin cast the first stone; everyone leaves and Jesus refuses to condemn the woman as well. Thirty Helens agree it’s a great story, but the passage is not in many of the early manuscripts of John (at least not where it should be), and internally it sounds much more like a Synoptic story – with its scribes and elders, testing Jesus – than it does a Johannine story. It also forces the end of the Tabernacles debate to happen after Tabernacles has ended (cp. John 7:37), disturbing the flow of John 7-8.

Heil does not agree. It is not that he chooses to read the PA with the rest of the gospel as a longstanding part of John; he presents it as an original part of the Fourth Gospel. As is typical of the commentary, Heil provides almost no argument for this controversial position, instead giving only the following comment in a footnote (p. 61 n. 31; compare the nearly identical footnote on p. 3 n. 4 – copying and pasting is a serious problem in this book):

Although it was omitted early on in the manuscript tradition, there is strong internal evidence for considering the story in 7:53-8:11 original to the Fourth Gospel, as it fits quite well into its narrative context.

He then cites two of his own past articles on the topic. The footnote is horribly misleading about the textual history of this story, as I will note in my review. The story is not simply missing in some manuscripts: it is moved after John 7:36, or 7:44, or to the end of John, or to another gospel (Luke)!

But I wanted to check out Heil’s internal arguments (which might only explain why a copyist chose to put a free, non-Johannine story there). In his first article, Heil makes narrative arguments (how the passage adds to the story in chapters 7-8) as well as linguistic ones. In part, Heil wants to refute the idea that there are too many strange words, words that do not appear anywhere else in John, for it to be original:

To argue, as is commonly done, that our story is non-Johannine because it contains words or stylistic features not found elsewhere in John is extremely precarious for such a brief passage of only twelve verses. The use of unusual vocabulary may simply be due to the uniqueness of the story. There are other short Johannine passages, such as the healing of the man at the pool in Jerusalem (5,1-11) and the miraculous feeding (6,1-15), which also contain a number of words not found elsewhere in the gospel, yet their Johannine character is unquestioned (“The Story of Jesus and the Adulteress (John 7,53-8,11) Reconsidered,” Biblica 72/2 [1991]: 182-91, here 183, emphasis added).

Although Heil hints at a relative measure (that there are [so many?] unique words in “such a brief passage”), note the binary quality of Heil’s claim: John 7:53-8:11 contains unique words at all, but so do other passages. Therefore their argument is invalid. The quantitative element is minimized in favor of a qualitative argument about the absolute presence or absence of unique words.

In his response to Heil, Daniel Wallace (“Reconsidering ‘The Story of Jesus and the Adulteress Reconsidered’,” NTS 39/2 [1993]: 290-96) defends the popular view that the PA is not original to John. Wallace likewise flirts with quantitative analysis, first by addressing Heil’s use of other stories in John:

[T]he fact remains that, proportionately, neither John 5.1-11 nor John 6.1-15 compares favourably to John 7.53-8.11 in unique vocabulary: six words… in 5.1-11 (fifteen lines in the Nestle-Aland26 text), eleven words… in 6.1-15 (thirty lines in NA26), fourteen words in 7.53-8.11 (twenty-one lines in NA26). The pericope adulterae contains sixty-five per cent more Johannine hapax legomena, proportionately speaking, than either of the other two pericopae (p. 292).

Wallace is to be commended for looking at the proportionate number of words, but why choose words : lines in a critical edition as your metric? Why not use unique words : total words? Additionally, when lines of text are used, and there are so few, is 65% more unique words a significant increase? It could be within the margins of error, and this hasn’t been tested.

Wallace makes another important point on the next page while discussing the phrase, “sin no more,” which is only found in John 8:11 and 5:14 and nowhere else precisely:

Yet a phrase which occurs once in John can hardly be considered a Johannine feature.

Wallace has a point. If, for example, Jesus dropped an “Amen, amen I say to you” in the PA – even when the PA was moved outside of John – we might consider it much more indicative that John wrote it since the double amen never appears outside of John, and it appears 25 times in John. However, a verb that appears 25 times in John but also appears 60 times in the Synoptic Gospels wouldn’t make the same impression. So we might want a way of assessing such relative frequencies as well.

Evidently Wallace’s counter-argument was not persuasive since, 20-odd years later, Heil continues to advocate for the PA’s originality. This is probably because he finds his own arguments, qualitative and quantitative, more persuasive.

Testing the Quantitative Claims

What if instead we tested the quantitative claims quantitatively? Originally, Heil hinted at a relative measure, i.e. roughly the same number of words unique to that passage appear in John 5:1-11 and 6:1-15, yet these are considered undisputedly Johannine. Let’s formalize this a bit:


5:1-11 6:1-15 7:53-8:11 Total
Unique words 9 14 19 42
Non-unique words 148 222 186 556
Total 157 236 205 598


Running a χ2 analysis on this contingency table gives a p-value of 29.9%, an insignificant result. The p-value here: under the assumption that all of the proportions are equal, if we kept taking random samples the same size as ours, how often would we get groups with as much difference as we find here? Apparently, nearly one in three attempts would yield as much difference as we get in these three passages. None of the passages is significantly different from the others. Running them in pairs gives the following p-values:

John 5 & 6: 93.4%

John 5 & PA: 21.2%

John 6 & PA: 18.4%

While the healing of the sick man and the multiplication of loaves are remarkably more similar to each other (more than 90% of samples would have as much difference as they have even if the proportions were equal), none of the differences are close to significant. In other words, the results seem to confirm Heil’s feeling that the number is not so great as to rule out PA as Johannine.

In truth, since the PA is unique, we should probably compare it with other unique stories. The wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12) has 208 words, 16 of which are unique in John. Comparing this story with PA gives a p-value of 56.5%, again, far from significant.

So by this measure (words unique to the story compared to words used elsewhere in the same text), the PA cannot be ruled out as Johannine. Heil’s point stands. Still, is this the best metric? Certain questions can be raised, such as:

  • What kind of difference can we actually expect? None of the Johannine passages gave a significant difference, but do any? If we used a passage we know came from Mark, Matthew, or Luke – or Acts or Revelation – would any of them give a significant difference? Would a short story from Plato or Sophocles? In other words, we would have to test how sensitive the metric is. But these are critical questions that only arise once we’ve bothered to develop a metric and apply it. I will try to address these questions in the next post.
  • A metric may be more sensitive the more information it takes account of. Unique words are not the only ones that mark the PA as odd for John. For example, the word “people” (laos) appears two other times in John, so is not unique. But it appears 52 times in the Synoptic Gospels. Is there a way to take account of that? I think there is, and we will return to this question as well.

A Reason So Few Women Go into Academics?

So a little while ago, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released “Visualizing Change,” its 2016-2017 Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession. I like numbers, so I started looking over some of their tables and noticed a comparison of average salaries for men and women faculty (Table 3). One immediately notices that women’s salaries are lower than men’s. For example, comparing the salaries at Category I (Doctoral):

Men Women W/M
Professor 135,739 124,217 91.51%
Associate 97,313 91,772 94.31%
Assistant 85,816 79,959 93.17%
Instructor 64,457 60,383 93.68%
Lecturer 65,857 60,911 92.49%
No Rank 84,773 74,329 87.68%
All Combined 108,372 91,356 84.30%

Perhaps unsurprisingly, on average women consistently make less than men for the same jobs.

On the positive end, these numbers are better than the national average, around 80%.

On the neutral end, I don’t have information about other factors, such as seniority, private funding, etc. It is possible that factors outside of the universities’ control contribute to the gap, perhaps significantly.

On the negative end, after going through years of schooling, hard work, living away from friends and families (or having to make new ones in each new town), women cannot expect to be compensated as well as men.

But these numbers raised two questions for me.

First, why is the overall average less than any of the individual ranks? If the categories of “No Rank” through “Professor” made up all their data, there is no way they could all be above 87%, yet the overall average at 84%. Some seventh category must be dragging down the average. The obvious missing category is part-time faculty. Either the ratio is so low, or the number of part-time faculty so high, or some combination that the unknown category can overwhelm the combined weight of No Rank, Lecturer, Instructor, Assistant, Associate, and full Professors! Whatever the case, the percentage that part-time faculty women make of men’s salaries has to be less than 84.3%. Working at half-time, adjunct, or graduate assistant levels is already not lucrative. Since most faculty start off teaching as part-time faculty in some capacity (whether adjuncts or graduate assistants), potentially a broad swathe of women beginning their careers in academics make significantly less than their male counterparts.

Second, are things at least getting better?

I tracked comparisons of men’s and women’s salaries going back ten years (2007-2008), the first year the AAUP gives data:

All Men All Women All W/M
2007-2008 93869 73383 84.30%
2008-2009 97889 76539 78.19%
2009-2010 99074 77502 78.23%
2010-2011 100671 78862 78.34%
2011-2012 103056 80671 78.28%
2012-2013 105584 82522 78.16%
2013-2014 108101 84654 78.31%
2014-2015 110578 86770 78.47%
2015-2016 110510 92304 83.53%
2016-2017 108372 91356 84.30%

At first the results were encouraging – a steady ratio of about 78% had gone up to 84% in the last couple of years. However, that was apparently the ratio in 2008, when the recession hit. One possible inference is that, when funding was in trouble, women took the hit more heavily than men. The “dip” in ratios appeared in almost all of the individual categories except for Instructors – the lowest paid category.

Even more to the point, the dips overall were disproportionate to the dips in each category, sometimes by a margin of 12%. That means that part-time faculty was hit significantly harder by gender than full-time, enough to drag the overall percentage down even further. That part-time income would swing more wildly is not surprising – the point of having contingent labor is to be able to shed them when funding is in trouble. An adjunct teaching three classes in a semester might go down to one, a 67% drop in income. But does this suggest that women adjuncts were shed at higher rates than men? I can’t answer without more data, but it does not look good.


So are things getting better? Yes and no. The percentage right now is relatively high and increasing, but if another recession hits, or if the anti-intellectual tide in the U.S. continues to rise and funding is cut for higher education, it may be women who are hit harder than men.


Update: A friend (soon-to-be Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Siena Heights University!), Wendy Crosby, pointed out that pay is not uniform across disciplines, nor is distribution by gender. That is, women tend to go into humanities and education fields, which tend to pay less than scientific fields, which men go into more often. The relatively large dip in salaries during the recession may point to bigger cuts to humanities departments. This is not a good sign, either, but it helps to explain the discrepancy when it is harder for public institutions to vary salary greatly within a category.


How We Make Jeremiah Anti-Abortion

The Bible says nothing about abortion.

Recently, I’ve been working on a project on this silence – not on the rightness or wrongness of abortion, but on the responsibility each Christian has in choosing to believe abortion is wrong, and in crediting the Bible as their reason for thinking this. There is an odd allure to biblical passivity when it comes to controversial subjects. Saying, “It’s wrong because the Bible says so,” absolves the speaker of any culpability when a non-Christian woman suffers due to a treatable ectopic pregnancy, or a raped twelve year-old is torn apart in delivery and dies. My concern is not with establishing their culpability, but only with disallowing the idea that they did not actively participate in that moral decision.

Because I want to hear from people who definitely believe that the Bible compels their anti-abortion stance, I’ve been talking with “pro-lifers.” In several conversations, Jeremiah 1:4-5 has come up. To clarify:

NRSV Jer 1:4-5: Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

If God knew Jeremiah before he was formed (Heb: אֶצָּרְךָ֤; Grk: πλάσαι; Lat: formarem) in the womb, then Jeremiah must have been knowable, so must have had full personhood. Granted, this says nothing about abortion. However, later Jeremiah will wish that the man who announced his birth had rather “killed me from the womb” (Jer 20:17; different phrasing), effectively cursing God’s plan. Jeremiah wishes his mother’s pregnancy had been aborted. But it wasn’t, and despite his status as a prophet consecrated by God in the womb, Jeremiah’s endorsement of an abortion – even his own – does not trump God’s plans for him, and does not count as a blanket endorsement of the practice.

The argument, as anti-abortion readers of Jeremiah understand it, goes like this:

God knew Jeremiah before he was formed in the womb.

∴ Abortion is bad.

That is, the two statements are equivalent. No argument needed. But in fact, there are a number of other assumptions that need to be brought into this argument to get from point A to point B. These extra assumptions are what I want to concentrate on because they are what we as readers of the Bible contribute to it, and without those additions to the text, the argument does not hold.

Assumption 1: The positions of God stated in the Bible are authoritative. This one is a bit obvious, but important to state out loud. Christians can sometimes plop down a verse from the Bible into an argument like it’s a hidden ace, and they are dumbfounded when it doesn’t shift the argument at all. That may be because the other party doesn’t care what the Bible says. Many people don’t – it is, after all, a point of faith that the Bible has any authority, not a self-evident fact. Furthermore, some people favor some parts of the Bible more than others. Christians can dismiss whole swathes of the Law (unless they find a few they like), and Catholics often dismiss any appeal to the Old Testament. These parts aren’t really the Bible, even if they’re in there. They’re more like windows into an ancient culture. So the argument is at least:

God knew Jeremiah before he was formed in the womb.

God’s positions as depicted in the Bible are authoritative.

∴ Abortion is bad.

Assumption 2: Jeremiah 1:4-5 asserts the personhood of Jeremiah as a fetus. The line about God knowing Jeremiah in the womb comes to him at the opening of the book as Jeremiah is called to be a prophet. Jeremiah resists, but God makes it clear that this plan is in place from the past (1:4-5), in the present (1:9-10), and in the future (1:7-8): the almighty God has plans for Jeremiah. One rhetorical point of the scene is that Jeremiah is not special, but God’s power to make use of Jeremiah is. God has the power to send Jeremiah where he commands him, and to protect him. God has the power to appoint him over nations and kingdoms, “to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” And in 1:4-5, arguably, God has to power to know whom he will choose even before he is born. In other words, the line says something about God’s omniscience, his extreme foreknowledge and control over future events, rather than saying anything about Jeremiah and his personhood.

God knows all of human history completely before it happens. He can make predictions that we take to be accurate millennia in advance, before the grandparents’ grandparents’ grandparents’ grandparents of the people involved have even met, much less conceived their ancestors. And, apparently, God knows enough to choose a prophet a few years early, even when he’s still in the womb. While we may see a unique assertion of fetal personhood, we may also quite legitimately see yet another assertion of God’s foreknowledge and planning for the future. We have to choose to assume the statement is about Jeremiah’s personhood instead of or in addition to an assertion about God’s foreknowledge.

God knew Jeremiah before he was formed in the womb.

God’s positions as depicted in the Bible are authoritative.

Jeremiah 1:4-5 asserts the personhood of Jeremiah as a fetus.

∴ Abortion is bad.

Assumption 3: Jeremiah’s personhood extends to all fetuses. In the previous point, God knowing Jeremiah in the womb (despite knowing all things at all times) and having plans for Jeremiah is viewed as evidence that Jeremiah is a full person, even unformed in the womb. It does not necessarily follow that all fetuses have the same status. Or at least, that God has plans for all fetuses that involve being born.

This sort of anti-abortion thinking is also evident in appeals to Luke 1, when the angel Gabriel voices plans for the prophet John the Baptist to his father (1:13-17). However, in Luke, John has not even been conceived yet (cf. Luke 1:24 – After (meta) those days, Elizabeth conceived…). Luke one-ups Jeremiah by making God’s foreknowledge and plans for John evident even prior to conception. So do fetuses have full personhood prior to conception? This would be a controversial argument, even to strict anti-abortionists. God having foreknowledge of his prophets even before they are conceived is not controversial at all. After all, God has foreknowledge of the birth of the Messiah centuries before his mother is even born (cf. Isa. 7:14).

What needs to be noted is that both Jeremiah and John are prophets, important ones. It makes perfect sense that God would have plans early on for people who will be responsible for communicating his word. Indeed, as Jeremiah 1 makes clear, these plans include communicating God’s word. Not everyone communicates the word of God directly. God also plans suffering for Jeremiah that will not lead to his death. Not everyone suffers as Jeremiah did, or survives such suffering. God plans for John to prepare the way for the Lord and to baptize the Messiah. Not everyone prepares the way for the Lord or baptizes the Messiah. Both Jeremiah and John are special people because God had special plans for them. It does not follow that God has a plan for everyone. We may conclude that, of course, but only because it fits our theology and our mental construction of how God works. Whole books of theology need to be written in support. Jeremiah 1:4-5 wouldn’t cut it alone. So another assumption needs to be added:

God knew Jeremiah before he was formed in the womb.

God’s positions as depicted in the Bible are authoritative.

Jeremiah 1:4-5 asserts the personhood of Jeremiah as a fetus.

Jeremiahs’s personhood extends to all fetuses.

∴ Abortion is bad.

Assumption 4: God’s plans for fetuses necessarily include gestation and birth. In the specific case of Jeremiah, God’s plans for him required his gestation and birth, as well as entering adulthood, so he could fulfill his role as a prophet. All three elements are required. Yet when we talk about God’s plans for all fetuses, we only include gestation and birth. This is because children die, and we say this is God’s plan. Or because humans, once they are born, make bad decisions and act against God’s plans for them (and so may die), but fetuses are incapable of sin or disobedience – they are innocent – so they should at least get through birth. Nonetheless, Jeremiah couldn’t have been killed by a lion at the age of three, or caught in a fire at 11, or mugged and stabbed at 13. He couldn’t, because God’s plans for Jeremiah did not involve him dying as a child. God does not have such positive plans for all of us, at least the ones who die of SIDS, or leukemia, or car accidents. God may not have wanted those children to die the way they did, but he did not protect them either, because his plans, whatever they were, did not involve their survival into adulthood.

But the Bible goes further, depicting God killing populations that included pregnant women. There is no assertion in Genesis that nobody was pregnant when the flood came, or in Exodus that no pregnant women died in the plagues or even that the firstborn infant sons of the Egyptians had sinned when God slaughtered them, or in Joshua that no pregnant women were in Jericho. There are now over seven billion people in the world: when God kills a third of humanity (Revelation 9), do we really assume none of those 2.3 billion people is pregnant? We may, but it’s not in the text. God’s plan for all of those fetuses is to die still in the womb, and not always as punishment. The Egyptian fetuses die because one man, the Pharaoh, resists God – on at least four occasions because God forces Pharaoh to resist in order to play out the drama he had planned involving the ten plagues (Exod 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10)! Evidently, God does not have positive plans for all fetuses. God having positive plans for all fetuses is our (somewhat anti-biblical) assumption, and one that is necessary to the argument:

God knew Jeremiah before he was formed in the womb.

God’s positions as depicted in the Bible are authoritative.

Jeremiah 1:4-5 asserts the personhood of Jeremiah as a fetus.

Jeremiah’s personhood extends to all fetuses.

God’s plans for fetuses necessarily include gestation and birth.

∴ Abortion is bad.

Assumption 5: Abortion is a form of murder. So far, Jeremiah is a full person in the womb; his personhood can be extended to all fetuses, for which God has plans that necessarily involve gestation and birth. Therefore abortion not only goes against God’s plans for the fetus (as you will hear in some arguments), it does so in the worse way possible: murder. This is an important distinction because many anti-abortion activists have no problem undermining God’s plan for a fetus by denying pre-natal care to the mother, or by stressing her by worrying whether she will lose her job when she is forced to go back to work a week after it’s born, or about how she’s going to pay for diapers, daycare, doctors’ visits. God has positive plans for the child, but I don’t have to help with those plans… as long as I don’t kill it directly! It is an odd sort of argument to make, but I see it often online and implicitly in some of these conversations.

It is not obvious that murder would be the crime here, even if God knew Jeremiah before he was formed (Lat: formarem) in the womb. At least it wasn’t obvious to Saint Augustine. Despite being firmly anti-abortion himself, while interpreting Exod 21:22-23, Augustine states categorically that (accidentally) forcing an abortion (abortum compelleretur) in a woman when the fetus was not formed (non formatum) should not be considered a homicide (homicidum) because the fetus is not yet reckoned as a person (nec hominem deputavit). It is not that Augustine is unfamiliar with Jeremiah, but evidently he did not think to connect the two and allow Jeremiah to counter the claim in LXX Exod 21:22-23 that the death of an unformed fetus is not covered by the principle, “a life for a life.” Augustine would agree a crime was committed, just not murder.

Again, it is not to say that one is wrong to view the intentional death of a fetus as murder, only that Jeremiah 1 is incapable of making that point for you. The position originates with you, and perhaps your mental reconstruction of which verses from other books are relevant and how to read them, not with Jeremiah:

God knew Jeremiah before he was formed in the womb.

God’s positions as depicted in the Bible are authoritative.

Jeremiah 1:4-5 asserts the personhood of Jeremiah as a fetus.

Jeremiah’s personhood extends to all fetuses.

God’s plans for fetuses necessarily include gestation and birth.

Abortion is a form of murder.

∴ Abortion is bad.


The argument is not a simple equivalency of one statement in the Bible to a political, ethical position of modern day Christians. Instead, a complex argument needs to be formed with a number of assumptions brought in by the reader. Each of these assumptions could be complicated even more. Since we choose to bring these assumptions in or not, we are responsible for the argument formed. We are active creators of a position on abortion that has real consequences for fetuses and for women in the real world. We cannot pass ourselves off as passive recipients of a biblical command. Often, we are only passive recipients of someone else’s interpretation, which is not itself the word of God. People choose to take their positions on abortion, while believing they have passively accepted a position clearly stated in the Bible. It is only responsible to question critically that narrative, and to highlight the active role Christians take in choosing to oppose access to abortion as well as to support it.


MWSBL 2017

The annual Midwest regional meeting of the SBL was held this past weekend at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN.

Obviously I just kept thinking: this is where Rudy went!

I don’t have much to say because I was “that guy”: showed up for my first presentation, had lunch, did my second presentation, and left. Like a jerk. But to be fair, on the front end I forgot about the time zone difference so I got there an hour late. On the back end, I had to get back to Chicago for birthday shenanigans!

I was upset to get there late because I missed Loyola PhD candidate Najeeb Haddad’s paper on Mark, “The Pre-Markan Apotheosis and the Markan Resurrection: Mark 16:1-8.” However, a scholar who attended complimented the paper and Najeeb’s delivery. On the other hand, I got to have a nice conversation with Edmondo Lupieri, Charles Cosgrove, and Richard Choi about ancient Greek musical scales and the notation they used to record music. Cosgrove mentioned a group called Lyravlos that apparently does a good job of interpreting the music. There evidently exists a third century Christian hymn out there performed by the group if you feel like searching.

My first paper was in the Apocalyptic section. Russell Sisson presented a paper, in quite the seminarial style, on what I might call the anti-apocalypticism of Q (a hypothetical source for Matthew and Luke) and Jubilees, a pre-Christian Jewish re-writing of the Torah. Both appeal to the image of Noah (the Flood) and Lot (the destruction of Sodom) to describe the final judgment, but more as an appeal to repent than as a predestined outcome for certain groups. I enjoyed the session quite a bit.

My paper was on Isaac Newton’s apocalyptic dualism, applied more narrowly to time. I argued that the appeal to Absolute Time vs. Apparent Time in the Principia may go beyond theoretical duration vs. practical measurements of duration, as it is interpreted by scientific Newton scholars. If Absolute Time can be identified with the spiritual or heavenly time of Newton’s apocalyptic writings, then it may radically alter how we read some parts of his physics. The reception was warm and I got some excellent questions in response. I also have to thank Gabriele Boccaccini for letting me borrow his laptop for the slide show!

By the way, LUC doctoral student Scott Brevard also gave a paper in the second Early Christian Gospels section, entitled, “Spirits Unclean and Foreign: The Divided Demonology of Luke and Acts,” that I was sad to miss.

At lunch I joined the Loyola table (along with George Heider of Valparaiso), where I got to meet LUC’s new OT guy, Tom Wetzel (I’m a bit out of the loop as an adjunct who lives on the other side of town…). I also noticed that, of the four LUC grads at the table, I was the only guy. The other doctoral student in my cohort was a woman, but they haven’t had a NT woman since her, six years ago. Get it together, Loyola!

In the first afternoon session, I presented in the Early Christian Gospels section. Loyola was basically running things in ECG this year, because in the later section new NT faculty, Christopher Skinner presented a paper rooted in one of his larger projects on Johannine ethics, “Ethics in/of the Johannine Literature: Recent Scholarly Opinion and Prospects for the Future,” and in Sunday’s session LUC alumnus Olegs Andrejevs presented, ““This Generation” in Q: Engaging a Phantom Opponent.” They must be doing something right up there in Rogers Park :).

In my session, Bob Burcham presented on “Time in the Fourth Gospel: History, Theology, and Message,” although I think he changed the title for the presentation. It’s important that he commented on how different perceptions were prior to the resurrection from after it, so that the division of time cannot be collapsed or ignored. I presented on the testimonial character of John’s excessive use of oida in John 9, and how it allows us to read the note about kicking confessors of Christ out of synagogues as less religious persecution, more under-the-table witness intimidation, a common trope in forensic literature of the time. The questions were great (we went a bit over time), and Teresa Calpino pointed me to potential avenue of investigation that I hadn’t considered (so thanks, Teresa!). After me, Bruce Brooks presented on a metric he’s developed to differentiate word usage in order to argue that John 16-17 were added later than John 15. It was intriguing, but I would want to look more closely at his methodology, and my question about how to measure the significance of differences between measures (comparing John 15 and 16 gives 0.54, John 16 and 17 gives 0.43, but 15 and 17 gives 0.46 – why is this a reason to pair of 16 and 17? Are there margins of error, and how do we construct them?) went unanswered, although it is easy to misunderstand a question when you’re put on the spot.

I wish I could have stayed longer, because I enjoyed the few hours I was there.

Excellent Address of the Problems with the Academic Field of Humanities

A friend shared this on facebook, and I wanted to share it here (and there). The author and winner of the Truman Capote Award, Kevin Birmingham, discusses the impact of adjunctification on scholarship – in his case in literature, but many of the patterns he notes occur also in biblical and theological studies.

Working at more than one school? Check. (Up to three at a time so far).

Median pay of $2,700 per course? Check. (Although Loyola Chicago does pay more and goes out of its way to create a good environment for its adjuncts, at least in theology).

Donations going to athletics rather than faculty? Not at my current schools, but as a graduate of a Big Ten school (MSU) and an SEC school (UGA), I’ve definitely seen it — Saturdays where the library was not open because they could not afford the staff to manage a flood of drunk football fans; religion classes taught in uncomfortably small, outdated classrooms while the university spends thousands repairing the grounds after tailgating. Most athletic programs lose money for the school, and even with a high profit football program like UGA or MSU, they yield a net loss when the money is distributed to other athletic programs and infrastructure. They will never want for money due to a simple restriction of flow: athletic money is athletic money, but academic money is not just academic money — it’s also athletic money when the football team (or basketball team) needs it. The counter-argument is that athletics draws in undergrads in a competitive market and alumni donations (when they are not made directly to the athletic department). I would appreciate greater transparency on this, though, and greater scholarly critique.

All of this warrants further discussion down the line, but the end result is that the current career model in the humanities depends on producing too many PhDs in the field, only training them/encouraging them into faculty positions which there won’t be enough of, then building a surplus pool of adjuncts who are cheap and who can be let go at a moment’s notice if the school needs to shift money away from the department. This is not accidental or simply the result of a bad economy (10 years ago). While I knew this going in, I’m also lucky to have other options. Few others are, and the more undergrads and grad students know about the academic field before they spend the years and money becoming qualified to work in it, the better.

The Cost of Philosophy (in Illinois)

Since nothing else of note is going on today…

Earlier I looked at the availability of biblical studies at colleges and universities in Illinois. 31 of the 62 schools I surveyed offered courses in biblical studies as part of a religion or theology department. However, since these 31 schools are often smaller, private schools, only 32% of students in Illinois are in a position to actually take a course in biblical studies.

Today I want to compare these results with another field: Philosophy. This subject would probably be a better point of comparison for theology proper, but still a fair point of comparison with biblical studies, also in the humanities.

Here is what I found:


  Philosophy (Bible)
Schools offering philosophy courses 60 (96.8%) 31 (50%)
Percent of students at these schools 99.03% 32.30%
Schools offering philosophy majors 40 (64.5%) N/A
Percent of students at these schools 44.07% N/A
Ave. cost/school with philosophy courses $23,482.41 $30,130.91
Ave. cost/school without philosophy courses $24,620.00 $16,907.30
Ave. cost/student at schools with phil. $13,945.81 $25,470.70
Ave. cost/student at schools without phil. $31,651.91 $8,985.91

What this means:

  • All but two schools offer at least a course in philosophy, and almost 2/3 offer a philosophy major.
  • Since those two schools are rather small (less than 6,000 undergrads combined), over 99% of students in Illinois can take a philosophy course. However, since schools offering philosophy majors also tend to be on the small end, only 44% of students can major in philosophy.
  • Schools that offer philosophy courses are actually less expensive than schools that don’t, although the difference is not significant. The same goes for average cost per student, where avoiding philosophy is almost $18,000 more expensive! Cost is simply not a barrier to studying philosophy in the way that it is for biblical studies and theology.

Philosophy as a field has its own issues, and apparently they have been moving toward more non-tenure track positions for a while now. But these positions are still full-time, and at any rate more students have access to philosophy, whether it is historical philosophy, logic, or what have you.

While students may still gripe about taking a philosophy course if they are not interested, it is much less likely that people will question whether a college/university should offer these courses. Although the Bible influences contemporary thought to a similar if not greater extent than ancient and pre-modern philosophies, there is an uncritical assumption that the theological, ethical, and philosophical ideas of, say, Aristotle are more relevant to students than the theological, ethical, and philosophical ideas of Isaiah, or John, or Augustine, or Thomas Aquinas. If biblical scholars and theologians are not willing to question that assumption, then they participate in their own marginalization.