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Years ago, Dennis Ronald MacDonald's Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark was the one book that was making atheists excited; but as of this moment (June 2009) it is mostly ignored by serious scholars. The same fate undoubtedly awaits the work of Hector Avalos, including his The End of Biblical Studies.
Avalos is to be categorized in the same vein as Robert Price, Bart Ehrman and Gerald Larue. He is a true and qualified Biblical scholar, and that is not to be denied him. Nevertheless, Avalos speaks often outside his expertise, and it shows badly. He either purposely presents only part of the truth, or else is badly educated -- for most people of this sort, I tend to assume the latter is true (I'd rather make an accusation of intellectual than moral failure as a hypothesis), but because Avalos is supposed to be a qualified scholar, it is harder to dismiss the former so readily.
It will become clear that Avalos is, like Price and Ehrman, of the worst sort of "fundy atheist" -- an atheist who has not abandoned the black and white mentality of the fundamentalist, and so continually errs in his assessments of evidence and arguments, or else feels that it is perfectly fine to manipulate the truth in service of what he thinks the greater good. It may also be noted that Avalos was once a child evangelist, and it is not at all unfair to say that he remains one to this day: An evangelist, for atheism, with the same fervor and willingness to manipulate emotions and/or truth; and a child, in that his fundamentalist mindset, still retained, has prevented him from truly growing up, being honest, and thinking critically.
To the end of equipping readers, we therefore begin a series on his works as follows.
Avalos also issued select responses to a few of our points, and we will include our replies to those here.
The End of Biblical Studies. In this book, Avalos called for an end to Biblical studies (obviously), not entirely, but "as we know it" ; to be replaced by a form of study that undermines the authority and authenticity of the Biblical text. Here is our by-chapter rebuttal.
Early on Avalos delivered a briefer version of the core of this book as a paper to the Society of Biblical Literature (it's online here). The book version is published by Prometheus Press, the atheistic publisher. It would undoubtedly never pass academic peer review (not because of its "bite the hand" mentality, as Avalos would claim, but because of its poor treatment of the data), and so would never appear from a reputable religious press like Fortress or Eerdmans, or doubtfully even Polebridge, though that does remain possible.
Our account will proceed from here with page by page commentary.
15: Here Avalos lays out the mission statement to "end Biblical studies as we know it." The observation is made that the book will "review the history of academic biblical studies as primarily a religionist apologetic exercise."
Herein lies an obvious indication of Avalos' lack of mature argumentation. To point out at all that any field of study is "religionist" or "apologetic" is mere well-poisoning. Avalos would hardly accept as a worthwhile point to make (much less an argument) that his career has been one of "primarily an irreligionist/anti-religionist apologetic exercise." Referring to prior commitment of an author is not an argument or a point, but a way to sway opinion without effort.
Every paper written by any scholar or person arguing for a point of view -- whether true or false -- is an "apologetic exercise." Apologetics can be made for everything from Christianity to Islam to the use of specific spices in a certain recipe to...ending Biblical studies as we know it. To say that something is an "apologetic exercise" or enterprise is precisely nothing worth saying. That Avalos resorts immediately to such descriptors indicates a radical immaturity and weakness in actual arguments (which we will also show).
Avalos further claims that academia is "part of an ecclesial-academic complex that collaborates with a competitive media industry." Much of this is developed in a later chapter of which we will say little, since it is outside our expertise. However, the immediate impression cannot be but one of jealousy on Avalos' part, for lack of attention to his own agenda, as we will see.
16: Avalos refers to "bibliolatry" in the field of Biblical studies. Dr. Jim West has spoken to this use of terminology:
Here’s what he has (amidst a description of the SBL and its membership) - “The main bond is bibliolatry, which entails the conviction that the Bible is valuable and should remain the object of academic study” (emphasis his). I’m not sure why he defines the word ‘bibliolatry’ so idiosyncratically but I suppose it’s so that he can set up academic study of the bible as a straw man. Apparently Avalos believes that members of the SBL worship the Bible- for that, and that alone is what the word ‘bibliolatry” means.
His suggestion, though, that the SBL is populated with persons who bow to the Bible is both inaccurate and unjust. That the Bible is an object of study does not mean that it is an object of worship, any more than mice as the object of study makes those who study them miciolotrists.
What these opening lines suggest, it seems to me, is a desire to excoriate any sort of biblical study and paint those who practice it as foolish toadies. Whether or not readers are convinced by Avalos remains to be seen. What also remains to be seen is whether or not he is able to study the subject at hand fairly or if his own bias will continue to raise its head. His apparent disdain of the lack of objectivity among students of the Bible seems to be matched by his own lack of objectivity concerning those who do study the Bible.
West has hit the nail on the head. Avalos has purposely chosen a loaded word -- "bibliolatry" -- to poison the well. He has also redefined it to suit his purposes. This is not a sign of a reasoned, mature approach by someone who has the truth on his side.
On this page Avalos also lays out his theses, which sum up as follows, and to which we add comments:
- Modern scholarship has shown that the Bible was written by people whose view of things is no longer "relevant" -- even to most Christians and Jews today.
We can stop here for an important point. Avalos repeatedly uses the word "relevant" as if by so doing he is making an argument or worthwhile point. In the process, he also contradicts himself and proves himself a hypocrite as well as a demagogue intent on nothing but furtherance of his agenda, regardless of truth.
Once again West hits the nail on the head:
What’s fascinating here is Avalos’ absolutely and totally utilitarian perspective- which he applies ONLY to the Bible. If something doesn’t help the world become a better place, it should be done away with. But Hector doesn’t go quite that far. He doesn’t call for an end to baseball, art galleries, Paris Hilton, Fox News, Lindsey Lohan, ice hockey, soccer, politicians, lawyers, or television. Yet to be consistent (which is not what he’s interested in, i.e., consistency) if Avalos really, actually believes that the sole purpose of all human pursuit is the betterment of the world (whatever that’s supposed to mean), then why does he single out the Bible and biblical studies in particular as the biggest offender against human ‘progress’?
Avalos clearly and obviously has a secular humanist ax to grind and he wishes to grind it on the field of study that he himself chose and which continues to feed him and his family. It isn’t the Bible’s failure to contribute to human betterment (but this accusation in and of itself is quite foolish and narrow-sighted- one need simply think of the ethical exhortations contained in the Ten Commandments to realize that Avalos is simply way off base here) that bothers Hector. It’s something else. Biblical studies is just his whipping boy...
And J. D. Walters of the Christian CADRE has said correctly:
There is certainly nothing wrong with his suggestion that more people should engage in 'practical' pursuits for the benefit of humanity. But the idea that this should happen at the EXPENSE of people entering academic work is completely off base. A modern civilization such as our own needs all kinds of specialists, including doctors, lawyers, scientists, businessmen, farmers and yes, academicians. I do not want to think about what would happen to civilization if people got the idea that only 'practical' pursuits are worth time and effort. A kind of Orwellian pragmatism would prevail, in which perhaps food and technology production would be at an all-time high and perhaps everyone would be fed and clothed, but there would be no intellectual culture to speak of, no free exchange of ideas, no enrichment through art, music or literature (they would have no intrinsic value anyway). I simply cannot bring myself to abandon the Renaissance ideal of education, which indeed involves learning 'for its own sake', not just what will make fields more productive or cars more efficient, although those pursuits definitely have their place.
Now I must acknowledge in fairness that Avalos mirrors my own points -- made in other venues -- about how certain portions of the Bible are indeed not "relevant" to modern life and practice. I have indeed told Sunday School members jokingly that they do not need to read Leviticus and have my permission not to (in line indeed with what Avalos says on page 20, though his estimate of "99 percent" of the Bible not being missed is more likely an expression of his own distaste for the text, rather than an honest estimate; my own estimate would be more like 65% of the text, most of it the OT).
The flaw here is that Avalos defines "relevance" only in terms of what Hector Avalos (or secular humanism as he sees it) finds important and what he thinks is immediately relevant. And in so doing, Avalos reveals his greatest hypocrisy, as Walters points out:
...He complains that scholars and translators have focused their energies on the Bible as opposed to "thousands of other non-biblical texts of ancient cultures": "In archaeology, new inscriptions, even the most fragmentary and the barely comprehensible, are announced with great fanfare when there is a remote connection to the Bible. Meanwhile, thousands of more complete texts of other cultures still lie untranslated." But by his own admission there is nothing of intrinsic value in works of literature, so why should it matter that these other texts are ignored? If the Bible only retains its relevance and value becuase of the academic sanction of biblical scholars, how much more so would be the case with these other texts?
We will see more about this "intrinsic value" issue later. But more seriously, I would maintain that Christians ought to read such books as Leviticus once or twice in a lifetime; but why if they are not relevant to modern life and practice? The reason is that they are relevant to us in the same way that the practice of family history is relevant to us. That Great Uncle George was an aviator who flew a Sopwith Camel is not "relevant" to getting an oil change done on my car, or making decisions about my health insurance.
But only a pedantic person would object to someone being interested in (not "obsessed with" which is a matter of degree) what their Uncle George did. As West has noted, there is more to human pursuit than this.
If Avalos truly wants a world of utilitarian pragmatism, then it is time for him to clean his own house first. Robert Price writes and reads horror stories on the side -- these don't have any intrinsic value, so when will Avalos go to Price's house, thrash Price for his stunning indifference to human need, and then burn his Lovecraft collection? (After all, that paper could have been used to heat the homes of the poor, or produce manuals on how to better humanity.)
Avalos says on page 17 that the Bible is "a product of an ancient and very different culture." Well, and what? If such a point were made about Avalos' Latino ancestors and their writings, we'd likely hear charges of racism and bigotry. Normally, that a culture is different invokes a clarion call for tolerance; but we'll see what Avalos' own call is very shortly, and it smacks of bigotry. (Ancient, of course, has nothing to do with anything; as if indeed relevance or truth were decided by looking at a clock.)
Now for the other point to be derived:
- Biblical studies maintains the illusion of relevance by using flawed methods and power plays.
Whether indeed the methods are flawed -- or Avalos' arguments are -- we will discuss within chapter addresses. As for power plays -- what Avalos refers to as "universties, a media-publishing complex, churches, and professional organizations" -- Avalos simply needs to "get over himself", as the parlance says. If Avalos can't compete in the free market of ideas, he needs to consider whether it is because his ideas are flawed and/or unpersuasive.
The accusation of such power plays is one I have seen before. In my prior work as a prison librarian I received many requests for materials by such writers as Yosef ben-Jochanon, Ivan van Sertima, George James, and others of what is called an "Afrocentric" persuasion. Repeatedly these authors would argue about how the very same elements named by Avalos conspired by the same means -- flawed scholarship and power plays -- to cover up the truth.
Am I thereby saying Avalos may be dismissed at once by this means? No; that still has to be proven other ways. However, I am saying that the power-play plea can be safely ignored.
17: I have sympathy for the point that churches try to hide "objectionable" parts of the Bible from members. Recently my (now former) pastor, when reading an account of how David killed hundreds of Philistines to fulfill a dowry for Saul, studiously avoided the word "foreskins" in describing the nature of the dowry. This is wrong to do, and it should be stopped. It is far preferable to show why, as applicable, objections to such content are out of order than to gloss them over. (My current pastor, preaching on the same text, had no such hesitation.)
18-9: Likewise I am sympathetic to the problem of Biblical illiteracy; indeed it has been a "selling point" for many of my ministry activities and I have used some of the very same statistics Avalos cites. However, Avalos fails to recognize the true cause of Biblical illiteracy; it is not because people have read the Bible and decided it is irrelevant, but rather, as Walters has rightly noted:
In the end, I think that Avalos' commentary is a sad reminder of the state of disarray in the SECULAR academy, not the religious community. There is indeed a crisis of purpose in the modern academy, as academicians like George Marsden and C. John Sommerville have been arguing for a long time. But this is due to the postmodern rejection of truth and the suspicion of meta-narratives, not due to an excessive focus on faith-based perspectives. The Christian worldview has the 'cultural capital' to unite the pursuit of learning with real service to humanity, to say nothing of an immensely satisfying conception of "all truth as God's truth" which makes all fields of inquiry valid and significant. Compared to the great intellectual vision of the likes of Augustine and Aquinas of old, or more recently Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd, Hector Avalos' vision seems incredibly thin, excessively pragmatist and very uninspiring.
22: After a few more paragraphs in the same vein about relevance and Biblical studies as biased, etc. Avalos enters into a critical juncture -- which he passes through as quickly as he can. As West has observed, if what Avalos says is true, then hosts of other fields should likewise be dispensed with.
Avalos all too briefly tries to evade the force of this point by pointing to "[p]arallel critiques in other fields of study," particularly English and literature, as professions primarily concerned with promotion and maintenance of their own power." (Though as far as he reports and I can tell, there is no call being made for an "end" to English and literature studies.)
As noted, such commentary may be taken with a grain of salt: It comes from people who inevitably are objecting because they don't get the attention they think that they deserve: With the Afrocentrists, Shakespeare is always studied at the expense of Egyptian literature; for Avalos, his favored Mesopotamian texts (and his special projects on Latino studies and people with disabilities) are suffering because there's too much focus on the Bible.
It is not that such studies, to the extent that they are valid, should be neglected, or that they have not been. Knowing the texts of cultures other than our own (whatever our culture is) is essential to a well-rounded education. I personally enjoyed Gabriel Garcia Marquez more than I enjoyed Ernest Hemingway. The point is that jealousy and a temper tantrum is not the answer to the matter.
In the end, only inconsistency and hypocrisy can come of this, as Walters shows when he sums up Avalos' argument:
Avalos next outlines a bizarre theory of the social construction of value, according to which "Shakespeare's works, for example, have no intrinsic value, but they function as cultural capital insofar as 'knowing Shakespeare' helps provide entry into elite, educated society. The academic study of literature, in general, functions to maintain class distinctions rather than to help humanity in any practical manner."
According to Avalos, Biblical scholars use the Bible in much the same way as a self-preservation device. However, to paint this in an either-or fashion is simply a reflection of Avalos' ingrained fundamentalist mindset.
He makes much of seeing SBL scholars allegedly trampling poor people on the way to sessions. But isn't Avalos assuming that these scholars do not participate in charitable pursuits at other times? Isn't he also assuming that these allegedly-trampled "poor people" are helpless to correct their situation? What exactly does he propose that these scholars should have done? Were there no social services available? Aren't there already numerous (Christian! -- and other religions perhaps as well) charities dispensing aid to the poor? If one of these scholars had handed a homeless person five dollars, would he then object that they didn't make sure it was spent on food and not alcohol? Are street handouts really a solution?
Clearly, Avalos reduces the matter to this level for no other purpose than to slight SBL members unjustly and convict them without evidence.
This sort of thing, however, is little better than the Da Vinci Code claim that "history is written by the winners" -- to which it is properly added, "and objected to constantly by the losers." The proper response in such cases from someone like Avalos would be to make a reasoned case for more attention to what he is doing; in short, to get on the playing field and compete.
Instead, like a spoiled child, Avalos decides that it is better to just blow up the field with a nuclear bomb and then let the air out of the ball. Of course, as Walters pointed out, Avalos hypocritically doesn't think that any of this should happen to the part of the field he is working on now.
On page 24 he is supposedly going to answer the question, "...why not extend our thesis to all ancient literature?" Instead he goes on about why it should be applied to the Bible, and quickly makes the justification that "[f]ixation on the Bible also diverts attention from the thousands of texts of other cultures that still lie untranslated."
Oh? But aren't these texts also "irrelevant" to making life better for humanity? Wouldn't it be actually better to leave them untranslated instead of making the same error as we did with the Bible, according to Avalos, and distracting people from more important things like feeding homeless street people?
Avalos can't seem to decide what he wants to do. He wants to rip up the playing field, but he doesn't want it too ripped up because then he won't be able to work on all those untranslated texts.
In the end the agenda is clear as Avalos declares that his focus is on the Bible because "we perceive [it] to be the most egregious and historically important example." That this happens to give Avalos time to remain employed up until those other Mesopotamian texts are translated should be noticed before too much seriousness is applied to his objections about power plays.
On this page also Avalos mentions anti-Semitism in the Biblical text. He does not argue examples here, so not much can be said in that regard, but he accuses scholars of "paternalistic deception" for allegedly sanitizing such texts. He needs examples to prove this alleged deception; the scholars clearly refer to potential misunderstandings which permit anti-Semitic interpretation, so to refer to them as deceivers is unwarranted without more proof.
26: A telling and honest statement that may explain Avalos' expressions of bigotry above: "Phrased more frankly, religious pluralism is good as long as it does not interfere with secular humanism's goals."
Now all Avalos needs to do is defend his worldview cogently. That won't happen; on this page we also learn that Avalos became an atheist in high school because it was the "most honest choice" he could make. It is doubtful from his work that Avalos could argue for atheism cogently, and it seems likely that we are enduring his attempt to validate his decision after the fact and that he could defend atheism no better than a high schooler even now. He certainly won't be answering Alvin Plantinga any time soon.
27: Avalos comments that at SBL meetings since 1982, "I have encountered only about a dozen memorable papers."
I was unaware that the purpose of academic papers was to provide Hector Avalos with good memories, but let's consider that a moment. The irony in this is that Avalos is forced to admit that his own papers were "not much better" and then in later chapters will note that few people showed up for his sessions on Latino studies and the disabled.
Really? Maybe his papers were just not memorable enough. Or maybe the other scholars saw it as a case of him speaking to particular subjects as an "elite leisure pursuit" of his own preference -- after all, some of them may have wanted to hear sessions on some other ethnic group, like African-Americans, or Swedes, or Pakistanis; or some other group with physical disadvantages, like cancer patients, hemophiliacs, or people with cold sores. I'll also note the possibility, given Avalos' attitude here, that they knew going to a session with Avalos would subject them to a harangue.
Avalos says further that he saw few papers geared to "help people live in a better world." As West notes above, however, it is clear that Avalos only cares about this where Biblical studies are concerned. Since that is so, we can argue the same back:
Avalos apparently spends some time watching squirrels in his yard he has named Rusty and Skippy . Why is he spending so much time watching squirrels for amusement when he could be out feeding a homeless person? What did his playtime with Rusty and Skippy do to make this a "better world"?
There's a picture of Avalos wearing a nice suit on his faculty page -- why is he doing so much to promote a vision of capitalistic success and why did he spend so much money on a nice suit when he could have used that money to support orphans?
What did his article in the Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology in 2003 do to make life better for suffering Serbo-Croatians or starving Bangladeshi?
Maybe he'd say he knows better now? Well, what's he doing to show that he has repented of spending his time with such things as an article on Zechariah Sitchin in Price's Journal of Higher Criticism?
Or maybe Avalos would care to explain how his publisher, Prometheus Press, made the world a better place with their X-rated videotape guide?
In the end, even from this introduction, Avalos plainly reveals himself as (there is no gentler way to put it, and no way more appropriate) a childish hypocrite who is working out his anger over his former faith -- and this will be seen further as we look at the chapters where he makes claims of fact about Biblical studies.
In this chapter Avalos pursues the thesis that Bible translators maintain the relevance of the Bible "by using translation to hide and distort the original meaning of the text in order to provide the illusion that the information and values conveyed by biblical authors are compatible with the modern world" and that translators also do this work "by distorting and even erasing what is said in the original languages." 
The charge has two portions which concern us. The first has to do with relevance, which we have discussed in the Introduction and found to be a case of Avalos causing his own problems.
The second charge has to do with the claims of distortion. Of course it is not impossible that distortions happen; my example of the pastor mumming over foreskins serves well as an example. On the other hand, the act of translation inevitably involves honest compromises which only demagogues would say are distortions.
The example I like to use is of a Disney poster from the early period of film which featured Mickey Mouse playing a musical instrument, with the banner statement ALWAYS GAY. If this banner were translated for modern audiences, it would no doubt read ALWAYS CHEERFUL or something similar. Yet one can readily imagine activists claiming that there was a conspiracy to hide Mickey's latest homosexuality.
Are the nature of the cases Avalos provides true distortions, or honest attempts to make a text intelligible for a reader in a different setting? We will show that in all cases, Avalos is either out of date on the relevant scholarship or else fails to account for the data competently.
Is he in turn "distorting" things? The reader can decide that for themselves without any further help.
38-39: I have no comment on this section, but some words by Dr. West are of relevance:
In the first chapter Hector sets about seeking to prove that the Bible only survives because it has been, and continues to be translated and mistranslated. Evidently Hector believes that if the Bible were no longer translated it would come to a timely end. Oddly, to prove his point, he cites a Spanish translation theorist whose work he (Hector) translates into English.
Apparently, translation is only a bad thing when it comes to the Bible as Spanish translation theorists are fair game for the translator’s art.
The underlying principles with which Avalos is working are beginning to surface. In fact, the entire first part of the book is the unfolding (or I might say unravelling) of his presumption.
First, methodological tools are good - unless applied to the Bible, and then they are bad. Hence, it isn’t the tool that is used or misused or improperly applied that Hector has problems with but the Bible and only the Bible. Part One then, of The End of Biblical Studies shouldn’t be titled How Subdisciplines Conceal Biblical Irrelevance but How I (Hector Avalos) Conceal My Contempt for the Biblical Text and its Students With The Pretence of Methodological Critique. What Hector evidently fails to understand is that the methods he denounces as applied to the biblical text do not intend to conceal but to reveal. It is only because of his a priori disdain for biblical studies that Avalos sees it in the reverse.
43-45 Avalos' first two informational charges may be dealt with together, and they represent old news to us. Avalos charges translators with fraud in evading the "polytheistic nature" of Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and Gen. 1:1.
Regrettably, Avalos shows himself far behind on the scholarship if this issue. I have kept at the forefront of it because of Mormon use of the same passages. He is clearly unaware of (or hiding) the points I make in my article. Indeed, that he is hiding them seems more likely, for in an endnote  he mentions a similar idea by Heiser, which he fails to respond to except by hinting that Heiser has redefined monotheism so that "lesser" gods can exist.
But this is once again an obfuscation in terms of what elohim means and whether it ought to be equated with the word god in the sense that Avalos is using it. The issue is whether "monotheism" was a proper word to use in the first place. For this reason, I have preferred the word monolatry to describe Biblical belief; for the word "god" has acquired too broad a meaning, ranging from beings as diverse as YHWH to Zeus to Xochipilli, while elohim is used of what we would call angels (but "god" is not).
46 -- Avalos' next issue is with translators evading that creation from primordial matter is present in Gen. 1:1 (as opposed to ex nihilo creation). Once again, this is all prior work for us. Avalos treats this matter with a bare three paragraphs and nothing therein counters my material. If he wishes to charge translators with dishonesty he will have to do a lot better.
46-7 Next, Avalos hurls accusations at the NIV for its rendering of Gen. 2:19....again, we have seen this before. Avalos only argues against the pluperfect rendering by saying that in Genesis 1:7, "the Hebrew shows no difference in the form of the verb" and yet it is not rendered the same way, so the NIV is "soley motivated by an attempt at nullifying the contradiction." From what I found, however, "the form of the verb" is not all what is at issue.
47-49 The inclusion of this next section in a chapter on translation is an oddity. Avalos argues upon the difference in the age of Jehoachin in 2 Kings vs. 2 Chronicles. Let us reprint our own answer to this for context:
Was Jehoiachin 18 years old, or 8 (per 2 Chron. 36:9) when he ascended the throne? 18 is more likely, and is supported by one Hebrew mss., some LXX mss., and Syriac mss. Gleason Archer ( Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties , 214-5) states: "A numerical system
generally in use during the fifth century BC (when Chronicles was probably
composed -- very likely under Ezra's supervision) features a horizontal
stroke ending in a hook at its right end as the sign for "ten"; two of them
would make the number "20". The digits under ten would be indicated by rows of little vertical strokes, generally in groups of three. Thus, what was originally written over one or more of these groups of short vertical strokes (in this case, eight strokes) would appear
as a mere `eight' instead of `eighteen.'" See our foundational essay on copyist errors for general background.
The issue here is therefore not one of "translation" but of a textual-critical decision, and so including it in a chapter on "translation" is indeed most peculiar. Avalos is aware of the answer above (and apparently, a very odd answer that must have come from his career as a child evangelist -- that Jehoachin reigned twice!), but dismisses it as "mere supposition" because "we do not have the original manuscripts."
This of course is not a worthy answer (especially since Avalos freely appealed to such activity to the benefit of his own case earlier). Conjectural emendation has always been a standard practice in textual criticism, regardless of the availabily of original manuscripts. The real question, which Avalos will not answer, is whether the conjecture made is reasonable. In this case, it certainly is, for reasons Archer explains.
For example, here an author compares NT emendation practice to that of classical works:
The use of conjectural emendation in the classics -- especially those which survive only in single manuscripts -- can hardly be questioned. Even if we assume that there is no editorial activity, scribal error is always present. Thus, for instance, in Howell D. Chickering, Jr.'s edition of Beowulf, we find over two hundred conjectures in the text, and a roughly equal number of places where other sorts of restoration has been called for or where Chickering has rejected common emendations. All this in the space of 3180 lines, usually of four to six words!...
An example comes from Langland's Vision of Piers Plowman. In the editio princeps, which for a long time was the only text available, the very first line read
In a somer seson whan set was the sonne("In a summer season, when >>set<< was the sun")
"Set" is perhaps meaningful, but does not scan. Therefore attempts were made to correct it. The most popular emendation was "hotte," "hot."
The correct reading, as now known from many manuscripts, is "softe," "soft." Thus the proposed emendation, although perfectly sensible and meeting all the desired criteria, in fact gives a meaning exactly opposite the true reading.
Or we might illustrate an example from Beowulf, where we do not know the correct reading. Line 62, as found in the manuscript, reads (in Old English and translation):
hyrde ic [th] elan cwen
heard I th(at) ela's queen
Which doesn't make any more sense in Old than Modern English. There is a missing noun. The context is a list of the children of Healfdene; we are told there are four, and three have been listed (Heorogar, Hrothgar, and Halga); we expect the name of a fourth. Old English word order would allow the name to appear in the next line -- but it doesn't. And this line is defective, missing a stress and an alliteration.
What's more, there is no known King Ela for this unnamed girl to marry. This suggests an easy emendation: "ela" is short for "Onela." If we insert this likely emendation and the verb was, as well as expanding the abbreviation [th] for that, we get
hyrde ic [th]æt wæs Onelan cwen
heard I that was Onela's queen
Now we need a name. It must be feminine, it must complete the alliteration, it must fill out the line.
The moment I saw this, without a moment's hesitation, without even knowing Old English, I suggested the emendation "Elan," which meets every requirement. And it would explain how the error came about: A haplography elan1...elan2. In other words, our line would become
hyrde ic [th]æt Elan wæs Onelan cwen
heard I that Elan was Onela's queen
This conjecture has been proposed before -- and rejected because there is no evidence that Onela had a wife Elan. (Of course, there is also no evidence that he didn't -- if we had good evidence about this period, we very well might have another copy of Beowulf, and the whole discussion would be moot.)
As a result, at least two other conjectures were offered for the name. One suggested the name Yrse (Grundtvig, Bugge, Clarke). This, too, faces the problem of being a poorly-attested name. So a third suggestion was "Signi" (or similar). This is on the basis that the "real" Signi was the sister and bedmate of Sigismund, and our unnamed wife of Onela is also accused of incest. The problem is that, if we wish to preserve the alliteration, this forces further emendations to the line, changing (On)ela to "Saevil" or some such.
Still others propose to leave the line as it is and emend in a half line below this. (Though it appears that no such emendation really works). A fifth proposal is to emend the line to omit any name of the woman and just read "a prince," or some equivalent non-name, for Onela.
One would very much like to see Avalos burst in upon a meeting of classical scholars and harangue them for all of this "supposition" when they don't have the originals. What it boils down to is that Avalos is not a textual scholar -- and his resort to "we don't have the originals" is an answer conceptually derived from his former fundamentalist background, when thinking in black and white was acceptable.
Avalos similarly dismisses a textual-critical answer to this issue, but treats it no more seriously than did Tim Callahan (and also apparently heard yet another wacky defense in his fundamentalist past, which claimed there were two people named Goliath). Either way he is misclassifying a text-critical issue with translation issues. He is also a hypocrite, for he used such a suggestion himself in spite of not having the original manuscripts.
Avalos issued responses on some of these points, and we will answer those here.
In trying to refute my claims about our inability to reconstruct the originals of biblical texts, Holding draws on the "credentials card" to refute my arguments. However, this is a bad argument on at least two counts:
1) He is wrong about me not being a textual scholar.
I am not wrong about him not being a textual scholar, unless you define "textual scholar" so broadly as to include anyone at all. This is precisely what Avalos will do – define it so broadly as to make it meaningless.
2) If I am unable to render judgments on textual criticism because I am not a "textual scholar," then his own ability to render text critical judgments would be vulnerable to the same objection since he is also not a textual scholar.
Not if I use the works of real textual scholars to arrive at my conclusions, which I do.
This is so because he has given me the following criteria for being a "textual scholar" (e-mail 1-9-08):
A textual scholar is someone whose specialization is textual criticism, who is recognized as such by his peers and who publishes material on this subject. By this account, Dan Wallace, Bart Ehrman, Bruce Metzger, the Alands, are all textual scholars.
If we analyze this further, Holding provides 2 specific criteria:
1. Specialization in textual criticism
2. Recognized by peers who publish material on the subject
That’s right, and that’s how it works in ALL fields, ranging from your plumber to your chef. So how does Avalos get himself into this category?
He doesn't -- what he does is hold up a rose and assure us it is equal to a whole garden. Keep in mind the names I used: Wallace, Ehrman, Metzger. Avalos will deftly avoid any comparison of himself to those worthies.
I have not said, note as well, that he knows nothing of textual criticism -- no one can take courses in Biblical studies and not at least get some teaching on that. The issue here is that Avalos considers his counsel on the subject wiser and more worthwhile than that of his more eminent betters on the subject, both Biblical and secular textual critics.
To do that, we should expect much better arguments from him and an explanation of why the experience and expertise of these others is to be found wanting.
I may not be the most prominent textual scholar in biblical studies, but that does not mean that I have not been certified by my peers in textual criticism. In fact, some of my earliest specialization in my publishing career was in textual criticism. My credentials are as follows:
Before we get to those, note how Avalos skirts around the problem. "Certified" is a broad, sweeping word that can mean recognition to any level. It does not mean that he has been recognized with a competence equal to a Wallace or a Metzger.
Note also that I deliberately dealt with and named New Testament textual criticism as the field and named people in that area. Not OT. If I meant OT, I would have used someone like Emmanuel Tov in my list. And Avalos had to know this is all I was dealing in, since he knows I skipped his sections on the OT.
That said, Avalos is also not on the level of Tov either, as will be clear.
Second, none of what Avalos will name amounts to either a "specialization" or recognition by peers in the subject area as a specialist in that subject:
1. Formal training in textual criticism at Harvard under F. M. Cross and John Strugnell regarded as perhaps two of the foremost textual critics of the Hebrew Bible and Dead Sea Scrolls in the last century.
What this amounts to isn't specified. If Avalos took the class under Cross and Strugnell, so did other people at Harvard. And needless to say, this will not make you a Wallace or an Ehrman by any stretch of the imagination.
2. Peer reviewed contributions in textual criticism involving Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Ladino, Spanish, and Latin texts. These contributions are as follows:
"The Biblical Sources of Columbus's Libro de las profecías," Traditio 49 (1994) 331-335.
A Ladino Version of the Targum of Ruth," Estudios Bíblicos 54 (2, 1996)165-182.
Deuro/deute and the Imperatives of HLK New Criteria for the kaige Recension of Reigns," Estudios Bíblicos 47 (1989) 165-176.
The last article reported my discovery of new criteria for the recension of the Greek Bible known as Kaige. I found that the Old Greek recension of the LXX used forms of the Greek word poreuomai to translate the unlengthened imperatives of the Hebrew word transcribed here as HLK (means "to go"), while the so-called Kaige recensions uses the Greek words deuro and deute.
How this adds up to a "specialization" isn’t explained. At best, compared to the real specialists like Wallace, Ehrman, and Metzger, this is minor dabbling, which is what we’d expect any Biblical scholar to have done at the very least. And two of the articles aren’t even about the Bible. This is like claiming to be a specialist in NT Greek after taking a few courses under Daniel Wallace and writing an article in which you analyze a few Greek words or point of grammar.
Avalos isn’t a textual scholar; he is a scholar who has learned the basics about textual criticism. I also want it noted how he responded to my point that two of these were not about the Bible:
Last time I checked the book of Ruth was in the Bible, and my work on Columbus has to do with what Bible he used. So to say that these are "not about the Bible" simply redefines what "Bible" means for him.
A targum of Ruth, and a Bible used by Columbus 1400 years after the fact? That's "about the Bible"? Who's the real "redefiner" here? This is standard tactical methodology from Avalos when he is cornerned: He redefines terms, then accuses the opponent of doing so first when he is corrected.
A Targum is not about the Bible as it is subjected to textual criticism of itself, which is our subject at hand. Nor is the Columbus Version (whatever it was) of that nature.
Indeed, it is far from clear that any of these articles qualifies as "textual criticism" in the sense of getting back to what an original text -- and in particular, in this context, the Bible itself -- actually said. Avalos is once again redefining terms as his needs dictate, and this is yet another example:
Further evidence of being regarded by other scholars as competent in textual criticism was the assignment to review the following book by a major archaeological journal: Bruce M. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Greek Palaeography (Oxford, 1981) in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 260 (1985) 85-87.
Here’s a description of that book:
In Manuscripts of the Greek Bible, Professor Metzger provides an authoritative and absorbing account of the palaeography of Greek manuscripts of both the Old and New Testaments. Part One surveys the fundamentals of Greek palaeography. Part Two, the heart of the book, is a collection of forty-five facsimile pages from thirteen manuscripts of the Old Testament and thirty-two manuscripts of the New Testament.
This isn’t a book about textual criticism – it’s a book about paleography. The two fields are closely related, of course, but despite the semantic switch Avalos is making, they aren’t the same thing. Paleography is only part of textual criticism; it is not the whole field.
Second, writing a review about a book on a specific topic isn’t the same as being a specialist in it; if this is the case, then we should be able to find that all reviews are written by specialists in the field the book covers, and that is not at all the case.
Third, Avalos is trying to confuse the issue by avoiding the delineation of levels of specialty. Note how Avalos is very careful to say he is "competent" but avoids what I specifically said – "specialist." There’s a world of difference between "competent" and someone who is a specialist like Ehrman or Wallace.
In contrast, Mr. Holding offers us no peer reviewed publications in textual criticism in recognized journals (his own convoluted musings on his websites don’t count). Nor does any recognized textual scholar I know cite any of his contributions in textual criticism.
Of course, Avalos evades the real issue here, which is that all of my sources from which my arguments are derived – Wallace, Metzger – ARE all serious textual scholars, and their credentials are/were such that they make Avalos appear to be a mere hobbyist by comparison.
As an aside, Holding’s use of the credentials card is done on a pick-and-choose basis. For example, he has no problem using "Dr." Jim West as an authority despite the fact that West’s own association with a school (Quartz Hill School of Theology) of questionable accreditation has been the subject of much discussion.
Of course, I didn’t cite West for any academic point, so this is irrelevant. I cited him for his pointed critique of Avalos' hypocrisy, and you don’t need to be a scholar to see that.
That said, the link Avalos provides to here is far from earth-shaking. Quartz is clearly not trying to offer any sort of hard academic degree; much less is there any evidence that it is claiming to be more than it is. It appears to be little more than a sophisticated church training apparatus.
I might add that one blog entry (that ends up seriously qualified) hardly amounts to "much discussion," and the issue was brought up only because the blogger thought West was being inconsistent with his position on homeschooling. Quartz Hill itself is not denigrated, other than where an anonymous commenter indicates what it offers would not be acceptable to an institution of higher learning, but it is far from clear that Quartz Hill is reaching for such a goal in the first place.
Yet, he may ignore the comments of a Dr. Zeba Crook, a bone fide biblical scholar. While he does not agree with me on many issues, Dr. Crook does say the following concerning by book, The End of Biblical Studies: "His chapter on Translation (ch 1) is unassailable."
I respect Crook for his social science work, but the fact is, he is not a textual scholar either. Nor is a one-word description an argument. In fact, it’s an appeal to authority, and so a fallacy by Avalos' own contrived definition.
In short, the whole point of this has been that Avalos is NOT on the level of someone like Wallace, Ehrman, Metzger, the Alands, etc. and I notice he doesn’t seem very anxious to equate himself with one of those people. Of course he knows that if he does, he’ll get called down on it and have to admit I was right all along.
On Kings and Ages. This response begins with my comment that the inclusion of this next section in a chapter on translation is an oddity.
Actually, here Holding agrees with me, but he seems too obtuse to realize it. I have argued that some translations (New World Translation, New American Bible, New Jerusalem Bible) of 2 Chronicles 36:9do not translate the Hebrew text actually present (at least in the Masoretic Text). Some translations change the number 8 in Hebrew to the number 18 in English to harmonize it with the age of king Jehoiachin reported in 2 Kings 24:8.
So does Holding dispute this? NO. What he does is try to explain WHY translators harmonize their translations. He pretends that he provides an answer that I did not, as follows: "The issue here is therefore not one of "translation" but of a textual-critical decision..."
Yet, my own discussion (EOBS p. 48) already alludes to this when I state: "translators have made the judgment that the number 'eighteen' is correct, and should be inserted even if the text of 2 Chronicles 36:9 does not actually say that. A typical reader would not know of the contradiction without consulting the original language."
This is yet another case of Avalos trying to evade a mistake by redefining terms. He didn’t "allude" to textual critical decision at all in that statement; indeed, his verbiage implies that what was done was a willful mistranslation. He has been caught telling only part of the truth.
The decision to render 8 as 18 in that verse is not a translational decision. A translational decision would be one in which there was discussion over whether a word in the text meant 8 or 18. It is not the case that some translators think that what Avalos thinks is clearly "8" actually means "18". Rather, they have made a text-critical decision that the original author wrote 18, and that copies which say 8 reflect a corruption.
Now I wish for readers to watch this closely, as Avalos will make a tremendous error, and will not admit that he did so, and then try to reverse the error on to me:
At this point, Holding appeals to Gleason Archer’s explanations for why the numerical mistake might have been made by a copyist. Here is Holding’s quote and interpretation of Archer: A numerical system generally in use during the fifth century BC (when Chronicles was probably composed -- very likely under Ezra's supervision) features a horizontal stroke ending in a hook at its right end as the sign for "ten"; two of them would make the number "20". The digits under ten would be indicated by rows of little vertical strokes, generally in groups of three. Thus, what was originally written over one or more of these groups of short vertical strokes (in this case, eight strokes) would appear as a mere `eight' instead of `eighteen.'" See our foundational essay on copyist errors for general background.
However, note the full quote from the article -- what is bolded is not included in what Avalos quotes:
Was Jehoiachin 18 years old, or 8 (per 2 Chron. 36:9) when he ascended the throne? 18 is more likely, and is supported by one Hebrew mss., some LXX mss., and Syriac mss. Gleason Archer ( Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties , 214-5) states: "A numerical system generally in use during the fifth century BC (when Chronicles was probably composed -- very likely under Ezra's supervision) features a horizontal stroke ending in a hook at its right end as the sign for "ten"; two of them would make the number "20". The digits under ten would be indicated by rows of little vertical strokes, generally in groups of three. Thus, what was originally written over one or more of these groups of short vertical strokes (in this case, eight strokes) would appear as a mere `eight' instead of `eighteen.'" See our foundational essay on copyist errors for general background.
Clearly, this is not a "quote and interpretation" -- it is ALL quote regarding Archer. But look at what Avalos next does:
First, Holding botches even the explanation given by Archer with this statement: "Thus, what was originally written over one or more of these groups of short vertical strokes (in this case, eight strokes) would appear as a mere `eight' instead of `eighteen.'" NO, what Archer is suggesting is that, if the horizontal hooks are overlooked or removed, then what remains visible UNDERNEATH those original horizontal hooks would appear as a mere eight (see Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 207, where not all notations for "tens" are written above, either).
In other words, Avalos erroneously reads the words quoted from Archer as my own words explaining Archer. How can I botch Archer’s own explanation?
The context would that indicate that "written over" does imply something UNDERNEATH. Avalos was apparently in such a hurry that he confused two meanings of "over". But more importantly is how Avalos responds to this error he made when it was pointed out. He does not admit he made a mistake. Rather, he tries to change the subject and blame me for something else:
Mr. Holding is now blaming Archer. Mr. Holding has botched this reading of Archer because he did not compare what Archer said on p. 215 of Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (quoted by Holding) to what Archer said on p. 207. If he had actually read both passages, Holding would have seen the problem I do. It is a botched and poor reading of Archer’s explanation in that sense.
Here, the best analogy I can draw is that Avalos is likethe guy on America's Dumbest Criminals who was caught breaking into a hotel room and says he did it "because it looked dirty inside and I wanted to do them a favor and clean it up." This is simply and clearly evasion. Originally, notice, the "botch" was my alleged interpretation of Archer by using the words quoted, which were actually Archer's words. Now the alleged "botch" is that I failed to compare two separate quotes which Avalos thinks are in contradiction within Archer. As he further says:
Mr. Holding quoted this passage on p. 215 of Archer's work with a presumed endorsement. Thus, he interpreted it to be correct despite the problems posed by p. 207.
We ought not excuse Mr. Holding from at least critically reading the authorities he regurgitates.
Can any Skeptic look at these words and say with a straight face that Avalos can be trusted to tell the truth?
They cannot. He is in fact one of the most deceitful Skeptics I have ever opposed.
That said, does Archer indeed contradict himself as claimed? I can only surmise that Avalos' conclusion is drawn from what appear to be graphic symbols inserted in the text to illustrate the numerical notation system (207). Based on these, it would likely be understood by a lay reader that Archer meant by "over" that the symbols were above, not written over, each other.
Whether this is Archer's fault, or whether the printer was incapable of reprinting the symbols properly, is not clear. However, it remains that Avalos erred in what he said of this matter regarding my use of Archer, and has refused to admit it.
Avalos further claims:
And those of us who have actually studied the Aramaic papyri from Elephantine, Egypt know how misleading Holding’s interpretation of Archer’s explanation is. Papyri from Elephantine from the fifth century BCE form the main data base for Archer’s claims (Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 207). Some manuscripts may have the numerical system Holding parrots from Archer but that is clearly not the case in many or most papyri. Indeed, Archer never gives a specific papyrus from Elephantine to support his claim.
I can’t speak for Archer of course, but it seems to me that the proper answer here would not be to say that he "never gives a specific papyrus" but to show that he is wrong.
Avalos goes on to say some more about how I "represent" the system (apparently accomplished, as noted, by his own incorrect reading):
Consider, for example, Papyrus 5 of the Brooklyn Papyri (which are from Elephantine and published in Emil G.Kraeling, The Brooklyn Museum Papyri: New Documents of the Fifth Century from the Jewish Colony at Elephantine [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953). The number 38, appears on the first line. It does not have the horizontal hooks indicating "tens" over digits less than 10, as Holding represents this system. Instead, the hooked signs indicating tens, are on the SAME LINE and BEFORE the signs for digits less than ten.
As noted, this is Avalos' own mistake. At worst he can blame Archer for not filling in the blanks for him. But the reality is that Avalos has apparently misread Archer's use of the term "over" (assuming he is even right in his professed "correction" of him, which we certainly cannot be assured of at this point) and has erred in his own reading of MY work -- and has shown himself by this single example to be unworthy of the respect normally shown to an academic.
Do falsehoods like this pass in peer-reviewed journals like the ones Avalos has published in? One is suspicious that his own past work may not be as competent or as honest as his tenure at Iowa State would indicate.
But Archer’s explanation is irrelevant, as his main goal is to show that a copyist, and not the original author, made the mistake. Nothing he says proves that to be the case. There is no verifiable evidence that Archer can adduce to show that it was the copyist, rather than the original author, who made the numerical mistake in the first place.
Thus, to say that it is A COPYIST’S mistake is already to make a prejudiced and unsupported statement, without seeing the originals.
In this, all Avalos does is repeat his charge that all textual critics are wrong for doing conjectural emendations. As I said, this of course is not a worthy answer (especially since Avalos freely appealed to such activity to the benefit of his own case earlier). Conjectural emendation has always been a standard practice in textual criticism, regardless of the availabily of original manuscripts. The real question, which Avalos will not answer, is whether the conjecture made is reasonable.
One of his weaker justifications is that 18 is attested in some "Syriac mss," among others. That is great, except that these translations don’t represent themselves as translating the Syriac manuscripts. They represent themselves as translations of the Hebrew (Masoretic) text. If you are translating the Syriac version of 2 Chronicles 36:9,then using "18" may be fine. But don’t pretend it is the same as the Masoretic version.
Of course, such evidence is used in textual critical decisions, and Avalos is once again trying to turn it into a translation issue. It isn’t.
In the end, Holding can only manage a feeble "everybody does it" riposte when explaining why translators erase contradictions (try that with bank robbery, and see if you don’t end up in a correctional facility Holding may know too well).
"Everybody" here means "all specialists in textual criticism," in this case, people who know their field. The parallel to bank robbery is irrelevant: Avalos is declaring himself more an expert than the real experts here. He has declared that conjectural emendation is wrong as a practice, but has given no reason why it is or why he is to be trusted.
Now observe as Avalos makes yet another error of the same sort as above, that he likewise will refuse to admit:
To illustrate his "everybody-does-it" strategy, Holding tries to impress us with his flawed knowledge of Piers the Plowman, a Medieval English poem (written in West Midland dialect), and Beowulf, an Anglo-Saxon poem.
"His" flawed knowledge? No, not mine. The material comes from Rich Elliott of Simon Greenleaf University, whose site is the one I linked to. Perhaps Avalos could whine that he had a copy made without the link, but I introduce Elliott's words very clearly as not my own: For example, here an author compares NT emendation practice to that of classical works.
I should also note that Avalos once again changes the subject. The issue here is whether conjectural emendation is a permissible practice in textual criticism. Avalos has distracted from this issue by changing to the subject of the viability of Elliott's explanation regarding a reading in Piers Plowman. Since this is so, I will not repeat my answer here as I have it on TheologyWeb, where this article was discussed, though readers may find of interest that Avalos had to be corrected by a reader regarding the meaning of the term editio princeps.
We now return to our critique of the main text.
49-50 Avalos' treatment of Eccl. 2:25 is a tempest in a teapot. He claims that "humanistic" tendencies were covered up by translators who changed the verse from, "for who will eat and enjoy, except for myself" to "for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?" Avalos charges that the change is meant to cover up a "radical" idea of pursuing humanistic happiness and of God being "irrelevant" in the happiness of human beings. "God," he says, is not in the Hebrew text, so translators must be covering up the truth.
Avalos' own retort, however, is laden with anachromism. He does not discuss any reasons why translators have made this decision, but that it is to hide some sort of nascent humanism is an highly unreasonable; such an individualistic, egocentric sentiment as Avalos imagines would hardly have emerged in an ancient collectivist society. Avalos is reading modern, Western humanism into the text.
So what would the text say and mean? Arguably the emendation to "God" makes better sense of the surrounding context:
24 A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
On the other hand, 2:25 could read "myself" and could then refer back to all of the enjoyments the author lists in 2:1-11 -- which would make sense as an ironic, sarcastic refrain to the former section detailing the futility of self-indulgence.
Altogether, "God" makes better sense of the context, and either way, reading humanism into the text is a philosophical falsehood.
Avalos is clearly has something to hide here, and I found out what that was here (I have subbed in asterisks for Hebrew characters I cannot reproduce):
The MT reads [***] (mimmenni, “more than I”). However, an alternate textual tradition of [***] (mimmennu,“apart from him [= God]”) is preserved in several medieval Hebrew mss, and is reflected in most of the versions (LXX, Syriac, Syro-Hexapla, and Jerome). The textual deviation is a case of simple orthographic confusion between * (yod) and * (vav) as frequently happened, e.g., MT **** (tsv ltsv tsv ltsv) versus 1QIsaa 28:10 **** (tsy ltsy ts ltsy); see P. K. McCarter, Jr., Textual Criticism, 47. It is difficult to determine which reading is original here. The MT forms a parenthetical clause, where Qoheleth refers to himself: no one had more of an opportunity to experience more enjoyment in life than he (e.g., 2:1-11). The alternate textual tradition is a causal clause, explaining why the ability to enjoy life is a gift from God: no one can experience enjoyment in life “apart from him,” that is, apart from “the hand of God” in 2:24. It is possible that internal evidence supports the alternate textual tradition. In 2:24-26, Qoheleth is not emphasizing his own resources to enjoy life, as he had done in 2:1-11; but that the ability to enjoy life is the gift of God. On the other hand, the Jerusalem Hebrew Bible project retains the MT reading with a “B” rating The English versions are split on the textual problem: a few retain MT ****** (“more than I”), e.g., KJV, ASV, YLT, Douay, NJPS, while others adopt the alternate reading *****, “apart from him” (NEB, NAB, MLB, NASB, RSV, NRSV, NIV, Moffatt).
This is apparently another textual-critical issue upon which translators have made a specific decision, involving a single Hebrew character and fuller context. Why does Avalos not reveal this to his readers? Why is he hiding the whole story?
The answer is clear: Avalos is looking for problems where none exist. Aside from this, an answer to the claim that Ecclesiastes is self-contradictory may be found here.
50-52 Avalos here treats Luke 14:26, and nothing he says touches our own treatment. Avalos has answers to none of this, and accuses translators of "sugarcoating" Luke 14:26 by properly rephrasing "hate" to reflect the nature of the extreme language.
He does offer one "answer" rooted in a fundamentalist mentality: He locates passages where he thinks "hate" is obviously meant literally, and thus, he implicitly argues, Luke 14:26 must be taken literally as well.
Of course, one may as well try to say of the phrase, "it is raining cats and dogs," that we can prove "cats" and "dogs" are meant literally by finding someplace where the person who uses it also says, "I fed my dogs at dinnertime." This is not "arbitrary" as Avalos claims: Scholars have arrived at what he calls the "comparative interpretation" as we have: by comparison with parallel phrases; by seeing that a literal interpetation would be absurd (as well as not indicated by actual practice -- that is, there is no evidence Jesus or later Christians took it literally), and by the social data (as Rihbany indicates).
Furthermore, it is far from clear that all three examples Avalos offers actually indicate literal hate. He actually uses Judges 14:16 and Luke 16:13 as two of them, as we do in the linked item. The third, Amos 5:15, does refer to hating evil, and comes closest to what Avalos wants, but his attempt to compare Jesus to a cult leader here fails anyway as an anachronism; for he apparently reads "love" and "hate" in terms of modern emotional attachment rather than practical looking out for an interest (see here).
We do not need to address the matter of using the parallel in Matt. 10:37 (which rephrases Jesus' statement in a less hyperbolic fashion, as one of priority) as an argument, but we will anyway. Avalos says that Matthew can't be used to interpret Luke because we "cannot assume that Luke's readers had read Matthew at the time Luke was written." 
Why this makes any difference is not explained. It is a given by nearly universal consent that Luke himself had read Matthew and used it as a source, so it hardly matters what any later reader might think -- including readers like Avalos whose fundamentalist mindset leads them to claims such as that the Greek word for "hate" "does not vary and is not subject to as much flexibililty as other words may be."
It is sad that someone like Avalos, who possesses scholarly credentials, is patently without education concerning such things as dramatic orientation.
52 -- Avalos then briefly disucsses Matthew 19:12, and of course touches nothing we have written. Avalos is left with weakly suggesting that the verse "might literally involve castration"  but "might" doesn't even come close to the truth; it doesn't, except by imagination.
52-3 There is next a brief analysis of Matthew 5:5 concerning the meek inheriting the earth. Avalos tries to turn this into a reference to Israel only, because, he says, the word used (ge) "probably" did not mean the whole earth. He calls upon the allusion to Ps. 37 as support, where clearly only Israel is meant.
To some extent Avalos has a point; but it remains clear, whatever the geographic designations, that the "meek" will be specially favored. If Avalos wishes to argue somehow that the meek will only get Israel, who does he envision God giving the rest of the earth to under this paradigm? Matthew 5:5, even if it only means Israel, just as well grants the rest of the earth to the meek by extension.
53-56 Avalos offers an extended discussion on the TNIV with its gender inclusive language. While I sympathize with this to some extent, we do object to Avalos' ill-informed, one-sentence treatment of 1 Tim. 2:12, which is better analyzed here; see also our analysis here.
Avalos is aware of this answer, for he mentions the critical work in an endnote , but he does not describe it, much less interact with it, only calling it an "attempt to deny" that this passage prohibits women from teaching.
Obviously, Avalos has no answer to the arguments made by the Kroegers and wishes to obscure them from his readers.
56-8 The last section of this chapter is where Avalos provides data for his earlier brief comment on anti-Semitism. His criticism fails on two major points.
First, Avalos makes the common error of equating "Jews" in the NT with the modern idea of a group identified with a specific religion. This is an error since Christian apostles continued to call themselves "Jews". "Jews" in the NT actually means "Judaeans" -- as opposed to something like Samaritans or Galileeans or Romans, people whose origins were in the political entity known as Judaea.
Second, Avalos commits a similar error as the one he did for Luke 14:26, thinking that if he finds places where "Jews" meant every person in the nation, rather than merely the leadership, he has proven that it must mean "every person in the nation" in the case he wants it to mean that.
In particular, he wants Acts 13:50....
The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers and the leading men of the city, stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory.
...to mean not just Jewish leaders, or specific Jews, but ALL Jews as a collective identity group. Is Avalos truly imagining that Luke is envisioning hundreds of thousands of Judaeans (however he defines them) leaving their home nation and crowding into the synagogue meeting at Antioch for the purpose of inciting a handful of people in that city against Paul?
There is no need to remove reference to "the Jews" in the NT, as some cited by Avalos suggest, in order to subdue violence against modern Jewish persons by anti-Semites (as if they would not make some excuse anyway, once told the truth); what is needed is clarity of meaning, and once we understand that this means "natives of Judaea" it becomes no more "anti-Semitic" than to say something like "the Germans" makes one anti-German.
Avalos may be aware of this answer; he cites Pilch in an endnote , but only briefly dismisses Pilch away by claiming it is he who is imposing his own understanding. Avalos claims that this is shown by the use of the word "Israelites" in Paul's speech, but fails to explain how this is proven by that usage.
Avalos responded to this point. To my point that "Jews" NT actually means "Judaeans" it was written:
Holding attempts to whitewash this anti-Judaic tendency in some NT authors by arguing that "Jews" is ONLY a description of territorial/political origins (Judea) and not any sort of religious designation.
Inadequate description. The point is that its basis is territorial; religion is secondary. Of course, according to the ancient mindset, if you came from X place, you were expected to be a certain religion ("Because I am Japanese, I am Shinto"). But it is simply not the same thing as the modern anti-Semitism, in which "Jews" is used as a term of abuse. It is a designation no different than "Americans" or "Germans".
First, Holding confuses etymological origins of the word "Jew" with how it was used and redefined in later times.
No, it is Avalos who does that. But:
In fact, the first use of the word is may not be territorial, but tribal. It describes the descendants of Judah, regardless of where they are born.
Avalos is once again trying to change the subject. We ARE discussing the NT here, and how the word was used there, not the "first use" of the word.
One can be born in the territory called Judea and still not be a Jew. Many gentiles were born in Judea, and were not designated as Jews
Incorrect. I never said merely being born there made one a "Jew". I said: people whose origins were in the political entity known as Judaea. A man born in Judaea whose family came from Rome doesn’t have his "origins" in Judaea.
And "Jews" can definitely include a religious feature, as is clear in Revelation 3:8-9:  "`I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door,which no one is able to shut; I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie -- behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and learn that I have loved you.
Notice how Avalos shifts the goalposts here. He qualifies carefully by reference to a "religious feature" in the word. But that is not the issue. The issue is the meaning of the term and whether it is used in a way that is anti-Semitic in the sense Avalos wants it to be used. It isn’t.
As noted above, religion is secondary and accessory. In this passage it merely works under the assumption that all original Judeans will be YHWH worshippers, which was almost always true and part of the collectivist mentality of the age.
As for being in Turkey, Diaspoara Jews would regard themselves ethnically as Judeans – not as ethnically what nation they were in. Avalos is obviously unaware of the social factors involved here in which Jews tended to cloister themselves from other ethnic groups and preserve their identity.
Avalos misuses Gal. 2:14 and Acts 2:5 to the same purpose.
More importantly, Holding also seems to ignore that collective retribution was a recognized part of biblical thinking.
No, it is I and my sources (like Pilch and Malina) who know this very well. The problem is that Avalos does not know the mechanics of the collectivist mentality in this situation. Avalos goes on to quote to me about collective punishment and guilt, which is all something I have seen. Avalos needs to prove collective punishment and guilt in a particular passage, not read it into the text, as he does here:
Thus, the collective guilt imputed to "the Jews" by some NT authors (e.g., Matthew 27:25) is very much consistent with this view of collective guilt and punishment we find repeatedly in the Bible.
I wrote on that too: This verse has been manipulated by anti-Semites to indicate that the Jewish people accepted blood-guilt for the execution of Jesus, knowing that He was innocent But evidence indicates that this is NOT that kind of statement at all. As Sloyan [Sloy.JT, 85] observes:
The expression, far from being a self-inflicted curse, is a strong statement of innocence. It appears in later, mishnaic form in the Tractate Sanhedrin 37a, where in capital cases the witness uses the invocation as a proof of his innocence. If he is lying,he is willing to have the blood of the accused fall on himself and his offspring until the end of the world. Of course, this does come from a late source, but it would be unusual if this phrase meant something exactly the OPPOSITE of what it did previously!
Furthermore, Holding’s complaint that I have succumbed to political correctness and paranoia because I point out the anti-Gentilism in the NT overlooks that rather conservative academic scholars have also commented on anti-gentilism in the NT. One example is Luke T. Johnson, who says: "The NT’s harshest polemic by far is reserved for Gentiles, in which it appropriates the themes of contemporary Jewish polemic" (Luke T. Johnson, ,"The New Testament Anti-Jewish Slander and the Conventions of Ancient Polemic, Journal of Biblical Literature 108, no. 3 [Fall, 1989]:441, n. 66).
So saying Gentiles did something bad is "anti-Gentilism"? Johnson doesn’t seem to use such a term, though, does he? He doesn't. I think this is also rather clearly overdone.
Now back to the text:
58 -- For Avalos to charge translators with lying and self-interest is amazing. Avalos has purposely hidden that most of these issues are matters of textual-critical decision; he has also contrived arguments to promote self-serving agendas (eg, Ecclesiastes teaches modern humanism).
For this chapter, I will limit my comments to aspects of NT textual criticism with which I am familiar. This does not mean that I do not believe Avalos' contentions concerning the OT text are correct and could not be refuted by someone knowledgeable in that arena.
65 -- Avalos is well aware that the Biblical text (especially the NT) is in far better shape than all other ancient documents when it comes to textual evidence. Therefore, his resort is to irrelevancies. Such for example is this comment:
Unlike most works of antiquity, however, the textual criticism of the Bible carries crucial theological and moral consequences for those who believe they must have an accurate record of God's word to guide the conduct of their lives.
This argument is made often as a way to imply that the process of textual criticism as we have it simply isn't good enough -- it may be good enough for secular works, but because the Bible is the Word of God, so it is said, we need to raise the bar -- conveniently, beyond the reach of what textual criticism can accomplish.
Of course, the sorts who make this kind of argument are inevitably not Christian textual scholars like Daniel Wallace, but "fundamentalist atheists" -- ranging from Bart Ehrman to now Hector Avalos. Inevitably as well, these critics fail to provide any substance to the problem -- examples of specific texts that ought to give us difficulty.
Avalos, we shall see, is no different, as he merely resurrects the same arguments as Ehrman does. It is perhaps no surprise that Ehrman is one of Avalos' sources for this chapter.
To sum it up, simply because the Bible has "theological and moral consequences" does not render the standards of textual criticism inadequate when using them on the Bible. These consequences suggest that we must have a sufficiently accurate rendition of the Bible; it does not at all require that we have a totally accurate rendition, as the fundamentalist mindset of Avalos (and Ehrman) requires.
66 -- Avalos lays out his charges against textual critics, which are little different than charges of other chapters. He considers the whole exercise of seeking an original text to be a waste of time (it is an "illusion", so apparently all textual critics, even secular ones, are wasting their time); textual criticism doesn't do anyone any good; textual critics are biased religionists.
68 -- Avalos lays out his point in favor of pursuit of an original text as a chimera. In this it is not clear whether he distinguishes between achieving 100% accuracy in accord with the original or merely striving to recover as much as possible. It seems from his importunings that the former is more likely.
Avalos insists that for "conservative Christians, having the certainty of the original text is indispensable."
It is? The quote that follows from Geisler and Nix doesn't say any such thing; it does say that "for all practical purposes," the Bible we have in our hands "conveys the complete truth of the original word of God." This doesn't sound like certainty is indispensable for 100% of the text, word for word; it does suggest that certainty is indispensable for revealing truths, but that does not require 100% textual accuracy, and it also does not say anything epistemically different from what can be said of any other ancient document.
It seems that Avalos is reporting his own prior fundamentalist attitude once again, not that of serious and intelligent Christians.
Avalos seems also to make much of the goal of NT textual critics to recover the original text as far as possible, but this is the goal of all textual critics, even secular ones, so it is hard to see why any issue should be made of this.
69 -- Avalos raises the strawman that "we do not possess the autograph of any biblical writing," which is not news. From here he raises the false alarm that this means we cannot reconstruct the original, nor would we "recognize the autograph even if we found it." Presumably then, again, textual critics of all fields are wasting their time and deceiving people, since this remains true as well of all other documents.
70 -- Avalos' lack of familiarity with the textual-critical process is shown in the example he manufactures in which we are allagedly not able to tell whether a manuscript read "lamb of God" or "seal of God." It should be noted that when Avalos uses the word "seal" in is not clear whether he is referring to an affixed stamp to close a document, or a pinniped. However, regardless of which he means, his failure is obvious and profound: In such cases, context is often more tnan sufficient to tell us whether a reading is correct or not (for example, if the "seal" is a pinniped, then this is obviously a false reading, and "lamb" is to be preferred, because contextually, lambs have been used in Jewish symbolism and seals have not; Jesus is called the "lamb of God" and underwent a sacrificial death in other texts, and so on).
Avalos may say that context does not always define sufficiently, but in such cases, inevitably, either reading would make for an intelligible report and there is no issue of doctrine at stake.
My favorite in this regard is in the Thessalonian correspondence where Paul describes himself as either "gentle" or like a "little child" -- we are hardly resorting to defection to the Church of Satan over such matters.
Avalos responded to this point briefly:
Holding here blatantly misrepresents my argument completely. My argument has to do with whether we can ever reconstruct "the original" out of an existing set of copies. I used an example where one set of copies had the word "lamb of God" and another set of copies used "seal of God." I never denied that it was possible to choose one of those readings as better for THE ANTIGRAPH OF THESE TWO VARIANT SETS OF COPIES.
Oh, really? Avalos says things like, "we usually cannot reconstruct an ancient autograph," "it would be difficult to decide whether copy 1 or copy 2 is 'the original'," "How would we know?" and "the 'original text' proves to be a mirage unless we have access to the entire transmission process from inception to current copy" (try that reasoning on an evolutionist). There's plenty of misrepresentation there; we just let Avalos speak for himself.
Holding confuses determining the best reading for an ANTIGRAPH with proof that this is also the best reading for THE AUTOGRAPH. In more technical terms, he equates the antigraph with the autograph. A common rookie mistake here.
No, what Avalos does all through is deny that this is proof, and it is.
The rest repeats what has already been said, so requires no new answer, though we close with this:
How do you know that the reading reconstructed in any antigraph of a biblical set of texts is THE ORIGINAL reading?
How about, the evidence shows that it is? If we want to follow "how do you know" reasoning, how does Avalos know his little squirrels aren’t spies from the planet Glorg? This is not coherent argumentation. To the main text again:
71 -- Avalos now offers an extended item about how oral transmission allegedly complicates matters. His comparison of his own once-delivered lectures to repeated oral performances by ancient teachers is anachronisticl, however.
Further, Avalos resorts to baseless "what ifs" such as the transmission of Jesus' words from Aramaic to Greek (while failing to provide a single example, much less one to worry about).
77-9 -- For a few pages, Avalos discusses the OT text, and it is later that we return to an area within our purview. After talking some more about the "bibliolatrous orientation" of Biblical scholars (sort of like the "Tacitalatrous orientation" that Ronald Syme had) Avalos shows lack of familiarity with Jewish exegetical procedure as he criticizes Jesus (Matthew 5:31) for allgedly misquoting Deuteronomy .
It is only in Avalos' modernist, fundamentalist mentality that this is a problem. In antiquity, exact quotation was not sacrosanct and free use of a text was permissible.
Then there is more on the OT beyond our scope, but a point on page 82 deserves notice. Avalos here actually has words of praise for John Allegro and his "sacred mushroom" thesis, which he admits was "quickly discredited" and "criticized heavily." Even so, Avalos says:
Yet Allegro can at least be credited with raising questions about Christian beliefs that would not seem so odd when directed at other religions whose members might also believe in visions, ecstatic experiences, and other phenomena that we know are linked to drugs in many traditions.
Indeed? Maybe Avalos will next say that while the racist theories of the KKK have been discredited, we can at least credit them with raising questions about the fashionability of white sheets.
We return to the NT at:
83-4 -- Avalos discusses what he considers the "propaganda"  of NT textual criticism which includes the well known figures concerning the superiority of the NT textual evidence compared to other documents. Avalos says that such comparisons are "unfair" and "very misleading" because they are comparing the Christian "best" with the non-Christian "worst".
Avalos, however, purposely distorts the issue by expanding the category. The NT is compared with a specific class of texts such as the works of Tacitus and Livy which are 1) texts inscribed on paper or a comparably perishable substance, and 2) were intended for distribution.
In the past, I have had a Skeptic try to change the rules by appealing to a poem someone wrote and threw in a funeral casket before it was buried as better attested than the NT. This is apples to oranges because the poem was not intended to be distributed and so was not subject to the vagaries of the NT or the works of Tacitus in terms of preservaiton.
Avalos offers the same kind of "shell game" as he writes [83-4]:
For Augustus Caesar....we have inscriptions and texts contemporary with his life. The Res Gestae, a record of Augustus Caesar's deeds, reputedly narrated by Augustus himself, is still extant, and we could just as easily argue that it represents Augustine's own words more faithfully than anything we have for Jesus.
What Avalos intentionally fails to report is that the Res Gestae is published in the form of bronze tablets affixed to the sides of Augustus' tomb. It is also preserved in inscriptions carved on temples. It is not a text preserved on perishable material that were intended to be distributed on that material.
To put it bluntly, Avalos has misled by obscuring part of the truth which makes a comparison to the NT irrelevant. He also fails to account for the real argument, which is that as sure as secular scholars are about the transmission of secular documents with much less evidence, to that extent we can be more confident about the NT which has greater evidence.
Here, Holding attempts to refute my argument that biblical apologists often engage in unfair comparisons that make the NT text appear to preserve something closer to "the original" content intended by an original author better than any non-Christian text in antiquity. I point out that such claims often rely on:
1. Comparisons that can differ by time (e.g. The Quran had probably more copies closer to its date of production than the Hebrew Bible).
Avalos does not accuse any specific person here, but all such comparisons I have seen -- whether from McDowell's ETDAV or the more recent Reinventing Jesus -- include dates of the manuscripts and original production dates when they compare. Perhaps the only exceptions I have seen are exceptionally short summary statements not intended to be full-fledged "comparisons."
Not that it matters. The NT is still superior, even if you just use closely contemporary texts.
2. Comparing the best preserved Christian texts against the worst preserved non-Christian texts instead of comparing the best preserved Christian texts against the best preserved non-Christian texts.
Which he does dishonestly, as I note, by switching categories:
I cited the Res Gestae, a text attributed to Augustus Caesar, the Roman emperor (27 BCE-14 CE), as an example of a text that has more of a claim to preserving “the original” words of its author. The Res Gestae offers a contrast to the earliest NT manuscripts, which, at best, preserve, a translation of the words of Jesus some 100-300 years AFTER Jesus lived.
To avoid the obvious superiority of the Res Gestae in this regard, Holding blames the messenger, and accuses me of lying as follows:
And he did mislead, as I showed, by obscuring information. Avalos intentionally failed to report is that the Res Gestae is published in the form of bronze tablets affixed to the sides of Augustus' tomb. It is also preserved in inscriptions carved on temples. It is not a text preserved on perishable materials that were intended to be distributed on that material.
Of course, my statements are not a lie because I did not make any false claims about the medium in which the Res Gestae was written. There is no need to mention the bronze medium because I just don’t think that the medium is relevant to my point about the relationship of the content to its author.
Put another way: Avalos got caught using the information misleadingly. That he may happen to wrongly think the transmission of the Res Gestae is done no differently than the works of Tacitus may well remove the matter from one of dishonesty to one of lacking competence, but in any event, he has switched categories and failed to admit it. Indeed, his further reply bears the hallmarks of blame shifting:
Indeed, the sleight-of-hand belongs to Holding, who switches the issue by saying that the proper category for comparison between Christian and non-Christian texts should be 1) texts inscribed on paper; 2) texts intended for distribution. Since the Res Gestae was inscribed on bronze and was not "intended for distribution," then it does not count, for Holding.
So once again, I make the proper correction to one of Avalos' switch, and instead it is me who is "switching". Amazingly, Avalos can quote those two significant factors and STILL act as though his blending of categories is proper.
Ironically, in terms of preservation, bronze would support my point, as the biblical God could have chosen bronze just as well. Thus, if we apply Holding’s logic, the biblical god simply does not seem to have the foresight of Augustus in attempts to preserve his words. Holding must think the biblical god is so stupid that he cannot figure out that bronze is better than papyrus for preserving a good record, especially when the salvation of humankind is at stake.
That would only be a problem if we didn’t have a way to reasonably recover the text. We do. It is only manufactured grievances that create a problem.
Second, he does not explain why the medium makes a difference to evaluating whether a text has a claim to being more original or not. Again, the issue is: Does the Res Gestae have a better claim in preserving Caesar’s words or does the NT have a better claim in preserving Jesus’ words?
No, the real issue is comparison to analogous documents. If Tacitus rates a 10 in terms of confidence of recovery, then NT rates a 100. That the Res Gestae rates a 500 doesn’t degrade the NT’s rating at all.
Holding switches the issue by giving the illusion that THE MEDIUM changes our ability to judge the reliability of THE CONTENT of Caesar’s words. It does not.
Indeed, the CONTENT of Caesar’s words is preserved in a text in his OWN LANGUAGE, FROM HIS OWN CLAIMED AUTHORSHIP, AND from HIS OWN LIFETIME. In contrast, the words of Jesus are preserved in manuscripts NOT IN HIS OWN LANGUAGE, NOT BY HIS OWN AUTHORSHIP, AND NOT IN HIS OWN LIFETIME. It is those features that support the claim for a better preservation of Caesar’s words over the preservation of Jesus’ words.
Avalos can use CAPS all he wants, but it remains that he’s the one perpetrating the illusion. Once again: The issue is comparison to comparable works, and that the NT comes out superior in terms of evidence to documents secular scholars do not have serious issues with in terms of transmission. And beyond that, Avalos gives us no reason to worry over any specific passage, other than copying Ehrman’s argument, which Wallace answered.
Note as well that Avalos has again switched categories. Things like language and authorship are accessory issues to the one at hand, the preservation of the NT text. They can be argued on their own merits. Avalos throws them into the mix merely to cloud the issue of textual preservation.
Those features would not change if the Res Gestae were written on papyrus rather than on bronze. Besides, there is nothing to prevent scribes from transfering the message on those bronze tablets to perishable materials. So, contra Holding, THE MEDIUM DOES NOT CHANGE THE MESSAGE here.
Oh really? So Avalos doesn’t think someone could take down the old bronze and put something new up 10-20 years later? Either way, none of this scores against the transmission of the NT; it just makes the Res Gestae an A plus plus where the NT is an A plus.
Of course, Holding also conveniently ignores my discussion of the Quran completely, which was written on perishable materials and was meant for distribution no less than any biblical text.
I ignored it because I don’t have any dispute with it in that respect. That said, Answering Islam has plenty of issues with the control of the Quranic text; Avalos can discuss it with them if he wants to.
If we examine further biblical attitudes toward the transmission of texts, then we can see that at least some of the biblical texts also would not fit Holding’s own criteria.
Consider Holding’s criteria that we cannot use texts for comparison that are written on non-perishable materials. This would also exclude some biblical texts that are said to have been written originally in stone. For example, The Ten Commandments in Exodus 34
"The LORD said to Moses, "Cut two tables of stone like the first; and I will write upon the tables the words that were on the first tables, which you broke."
The book of the Law was not necessarily intended for wide distribution because most people could not read anyway. Rather, the keepers of the law READ IT ALOUD to the mostly illiterate people. Usually, copies were made for a very small set of people like the King (see Deut. 17:18). Otherwise, it was stored in the Ark of the Covenant (Deut. 31:24-28).
The fact that the book of the Law was not distributed during the period of many kings is supported by the story of how Josiah did not know of any other copy of the book of the Law until one was "found" by his priests (see 2 Kings 22:8, 13, 16).
Avalos apparently imagines this would pose a problem for me. It doesn't. Once Ex. 34:1 was transferred to text it became comparable to the NT in terms of medium. If it stayed on stone it would not be. And if we had Ex. 34:1 on the original stone tablets I still would not consider it a viable analogy against the NT.
So, by Holding’s logic, we should exclude the law of Moses (or the book of the Law, if it is the same) from any textual comparisons with even better preserved non-biblical texts (e.g. the Quran) because that Law was not written on perishable materials, and its "distribution" was more restricted than even the Res Gestae, which was meant for public view and was not stored in an Ark.
I agree – we should exclude it in its "stone only" and "private view" stages. Once it became committed to papyrus it was a different animal. And by the way, Avalos has switched again: The issue is NT, not OT.
Holding also seems ignorant of how unreliable ANY sort of written text was regarded by at least some early Christians. Consider Eusebius’ report about the attitude of Papias, a bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia (second century), in determining the teachings of Jesus: "For I did not suppose that information from books would help me so much as the word of a living and surviving voice.: Source: Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, trans. J. E. L. Oulton (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), 3.39.4. Indeed, this harks back to a Platonic tradition (See Plato, Phaedrus, 275) that any written text was inferior to memory and oral transmission.
I’m fully aware of this and even wrote a huge article on it. But Avalos is taking too much meaning out of Papias anyway (and does he agree with him?). Papias preferred a living voice because he could ask it questions. This has nothing to do with the reliability of textual transmission but the natural lack of interactivity offered by a text.
Back to the main text:
84 -- Avalos makes a false comparison to the Book of Mormon. He excuses the false comparison to a book made in the age of printing with a claim that "a good theologian can argue that God's plan was precisely to introduce the book of Mormon after printing to achieve maximum effect."
Of course, this obscures the real issue, which is again, comparison and confidence in ancient documents; as well as that textual transmission has hardly been an apologetic issue for or against Mormonism in the first place.
85 -- Avalos here objects to the fallacy of "equating the quantity of contemporary copies of a claim with the validity of the claim," but in 10+ years of apologetics work, I have so far only seen one person ever come up with such an argument, and that was the Secular Web's James Still falsely imputing this argument to Josh McDowell. I have yet to see it coming from a Christian author, though it is conceivable that Avalos used to make that argument himself as a child evangelist.
Several pages follow about such issues as the textus receptus and how textual criticism has caused its own demise (though Avalos didn't tell his fellow Skeptic Bart Ehrman, even though he read his books and even is dependent on them for this chapter). Our interest picks up again at:
91-95 -- this entire section is against "arbitrary methods" of textual criticism and in particular against Bruce Metzger, who is now deceased and unable to defend himself. Avalos quotes one of Metzger's hypotheses for why a certain reading was to be preferred; it had to do with scribal reverence, and Avalos won't have that, saying, "...all of this seems to psychoanalyze the author and the scribe"  and lapsing into, "How would we know?" as though this were an actual answer.
There is of course a certain truth here. Textual criticism, like many fields (even those in science) works within the realm of hypothesis and probability. Metzger, as an eminent textual critic, was in a position to know why readings of certain types were to be preferred, certainly far better than Avalos, who is a relative novice in the specific field of NT textual criticism. "How do we know" is not an answer to what Metzger offers. An answer would be to show why Metzger's hypothesis does not account for the data better than a rival hypothesis.
Moreover, it is Metzger who needs to be defended from Holding, who puts an argument on Metzger’s lips that Metzger himself did not make. Note, for example, that Holding’s only defense for Metzger’s decision in Acts 4:24is that Metzger "was in a position to know why readings of certain types were to be preferred."
That’s putting an argument on his lips how? The point is that Metzger was capable of deciding when or how reverence was a viable criteria, far more so than Avalos. Metzger would have been aware of broader trends in Acts (such as wider scrubbing of divine names) that pointed to a motive of piety.
If Avalos disagrees, he needs to show why Metzger is wrong, not ask "how do you know" and leave it at that.
My complaint was that Metzger presumes to psychoanalyze the scribe, and Metzger has no credentials in psychoanalysis. But Holding does not mind the lack of credentials in psychoanalysis because he repeatedly engages in it.
Credentials in psychoanalysis are not rquired to to understand reverence and what it entails. Avalos would have us look at someone praying the rosary and claim it was "psychoanalysis" to say they were being reverent; for all we know they could be doing a finger massage on themselves. This is a poor substitute for providing a credible alternative hypothesis.
In all of this, Avalos fails to provide any actual reason for concern. He notes that the name of Barabbas  appears in some manuscript data preceded by the name Jesus. Metzger saw this as a case of scribes leaving out "Jesus" for the sake of revering Jesus Christ; Avalos, however, declares:
One cannot escape noticing that a name such as Jesus Barabbas might also provide evidence that there were two people named Jesus who might have been confused with each other at the crucifixion. The likelihood of confusing one Jesus with the other also might impugn the crucifixion (and resurrection) accounts. That is to say, what if Jesus Barabbas was really the Jesus crucified instead of Jesus of Nazareth?
One cannot escape noticing that Avalos' thesis scents of a sort of bigotry that emerges from comments like, "All those (insert race here) people look the same to me." That Avalos seriously proposes such a confusion based on a single (not full) name -- especially in a time when the name "Jesus" was as common as, say, "Bob" is today -- is highly disrespectful. It hardly needs pointing out that a mere similarity of one part of a full name is not enough to overcome the difference in the rest of the name, the difference in appearance, and that the opponents of Jesus would hardly have missed the switch.
Further on, Avalos attempts to prove "contradictory reasons" for textual-critical decisions. Metzger argues for a deletion of "Jesus" from "Jesus Barabbas" out of reverence. Metzger also argues for "he" instead of "Paul" in Acts 18:1 (which speaks of Paul leaving Corinth) because no one would delete "Paul" if it were in the original.
Now on this, I can add that Metzger's view coheres with lectionary use of Acts; because sections would be read in pieces, it makes sense that "Paul" would take the place of "he" so that the reading would make it clear who "he" was. Avalos even admits that it is "plausible" that a scribe made the change for clarity .
But then he calls Metzger's note that "no one" would have replaced "Paul" had it been in the verse a "sweeping claim....and this despite the aforementioned deletion of 'Jesus'" next to Jesus Barabbas.
Yes, and what? There is no issue of potential "reverence" with Paul, nor another "Paul" in the text he might be confused with. Avalos claims there is contradiction in method; there is not -- two different reasons are supplied that are in no way mutually exclusive. Much less does Avalos prove that the claim is "sweeping" by providing an actual reason why "Paul" would be deleted.
There is no "subjectivity" here; Avalos is simply thinking like a fundamentalist yet again.
95-101 -- Avalos entirely defers to what he has read from Bart Ehrman and tries to defend the idea that critical doctrines are affected by textual issues. Indeed, Avalos uses the lack of presence of originals to declare that "one cannot know if an important doctrine has been omitted, added or changed."  The fact that this lack of originals also means (by this logic) that we can't know if important doctrines have not been accurately preserved does not seem to occur to Avalos.
It boils down once again to Avalos telling textual critics (secular and Biblical alike) that they are wasting their time -- and if you think not, wait until you see his closing statement for the chapter.
One the same page, however, we get to a point where he quotes 2 Timonthy 3:16-17:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Avalos' reasoning here is astounding [96-7]:
Logically, the expression "All scripture"...indicates that there is no such thing as a passage that may be considered less doctrinally important than any other passage. Notice that the passage does not say that only some portions are useful for doctrine, but that all are useful for doctrine. So the fact that some copies of the Bible have fewer verses than others indicates that doctrine is necessarily affected by the loss or addition of verses.
The problems and deceptions inherent in this argument are legion in quality.
- First, Avalos has arbitrarily "atomized" the phrase "all Scripture" to the level of individual passages, when the word as consistently used in other texts more clearly indicates rather the collective whole, or at most, individual books.
The issue indeed can be illustrated by a reductio ad absurdum of Avalos' position. Why stop at passages? Why not say that every individual word is meant, and that e.g., 2 Chr. 11:14 ("For the Levites left their suburbs and their possession, and came to Judah and Jerusalem: for Jeroboam and his sons had cast them off from executing the priest's office unto the LORD") is doctrinally important right down to the words "came," "Jeroboam," "off," and so on?
In addition, perhaps Avalos can explain what "doctrine" will be lost (and found nowhere else) if we lose 2 Chronicles 11 or Leviticus 3. He needs to validate the argument that no passage in less doctrinally important than any other -- not just say so.
- Second, Avalos has given himself away by alluding to the KJV version of this verse (which says "profitable for doctrine") but quoting what appears to be the NASB. He is trying to connect the "doctrine" of the KJV with the use of the word "doctrine" to refer to specific doctrines such as the Trinity or atonement. The actual word used is far more general and means teaching or instruction.
It is hard to believe that Avalos is not aware of this, so we must conclude that he is purposely trying to deceive readers.
- Finally, the recitation of this list would indicate that all scripture is good for one or more of the purposes listed, but not all of them; and indeed, the use of lists in a rhetorical context would suggest that the traits are not meant to be exhaustive but exemplary. So even if Avalos were not being deceptive with regards to the word "doctrine," he would still be wrong.
After this, Avalos continues by pointing to Deut. 4:2 and Matthew 5:18 as evidence that changes in the text invalidate each. Of course, this would only affect Deuteronomy at most in both cases, but either way Avalos is still wrong. Changes in copies do not have any bearing here. As I have said elsewhere:
A reader made the point here that while my paraphrases above "are probably correct for typical Skeptic rhetoric," a more intelligent version would be, "If God actually is concerned as to whether or not His 'words' from which not 'one jot or one tittle' (Matt. 5:18) will pass away, then doesn't the fact that this text fails to meet this standard tell us something about whether or not this God really does exist or is really who His word claims to be?" In answer:
Though Matt. 5:18 has often been used as a proof of inerrancy, I think it is rather an expression related to the Jewish idea of God's Word as preexistent, and unchanging and has nothing to do with copies on earth. One could mangle the Scriptures to death, but the original is still on file in the home office, so to speak. As an analogy, my prison inmates used to think that if they tore down the signs I posted rules on, that they could get away with breaking the rule; but the sign was not the authority -- I was.
How ironic that Avalos, who is so up on criticizing "bibliolatry," has failed to correct his own thinking in this regard.
Finally, Avalos reaches for some actual passages that he thinks affect doctrine, and he simply relies on Ehrman to provide him with Mark 16:9-20, John 8, and 1 John 5:7-8. For this, to begin, I will refer to the comments of Dr. Daniel Wallace found here. Then I will refer readers to my own treatments:
Avalos' attempts to argue that these texts affect doctrine are far ourt of bounds. For Mark 16, aside from the usual claim about how it may affect the resurrection (a point addressed in my reply link above), Avalos offers this: "The text may not be important to Anglicans, but it is very important to certain sects of snake-handlers known primarily in Appalachia." 
Well, when Avalos comes up for a reason for the rest of us to worry, he can drop us a line.
On John 8, Avalos says, "If doctrines are not affected by differences in texts, then why all the outrage at its removal?" 
Apparently Avalos can't think of any other reason other than "doctrine," but Wallace, who is a great deal more qualified than Avalos in this vein, knows why: "The problem here, though, is a bit different. Strong emotional baggage is especially attached to [John 8]. For years, it was my favorite passage that was not in the Bible. I would even preach on it as true historical narrative, even after I rejected its literary/canonical authenticity. And we all know of preachers who can’t quite give it up, even though they, too, have doubts about it. But there are two problems with this approach. First, in terms of popularity between these two texts, John 8 is the overwhelming favorite, yet its external credentials are significantly worse than Mark 16’s. The same preacher who declares the Markan passage to be inauthentic extols the virtues of John 8. This inconsistency is appalling. Something is amiss in our theological seminaries when one’s feelings are allowed to be the arbiter of textual problems. Second, the pericope adulterae is most likely not even historically true. It was probably a story conflated from two different accounts. Thus, the excuse that one can proclaim it because the story really happened is apparently not valid."
While I am not persuaded that the story is indeed historically untrue (the issue of conflation, even if correct, would correspond with literary practice in the reportage of historical events; see here), Wallace's analysis gives Avalos the answer that he can't see.
Finally, Avalos follows that 1 John 5:7-8 "historically has been very important for the Trinitarian ," but aside from the issues I point out about the actual origins of the doctrine (and how 1 John 5:7-8 is actually useless for it), Wallace adds:
Finally, regarding 1 John 5.7–8, virtually no modern translation of the Bible includes the “Trinitarian formula,” since scholars for centuries have recognized it as added later. Only a few very late manuscripts have the verses. One wonders why this passage is even discussed in Ehrman’s book. The only reason seems to be to fuel doubts. The passage made its way into our Bibles through political pressure, appearing for the first time in 1522, even though scholars then and now knew that it was not authentic. The early church did not know of this text, yet the Council of Constantinople in AD 381 explicitly affirmed the Trinity! How could they do this without the benefit of a text that didn’t get into the Greek NT for another millennium? Constantinople’s statement was not written in a vacuum: the early church put into a theological formulation what they got out of the NT.
A distinction needs to be made here: just because a particular verse does not affirm a cherished doctrine does not mean that that doctrine cannot be found in the NT. In this case, anyone with an understanding of the healthy patristic debates over the Godhead knows that the early church arrived at their understanding from an examination of the data in the NT. The Trinitarian formula found in late manuscripts of 1 John 5.7 only summarized what they found; it did not inform their declarations.
Avalos goes so far as to find one "Homer Ritchie, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas"  as objecting to the RSV leaving the passage out without even a footnote. Well, Avalos and Ritchie makes good companions: Both are obviously fundamentalists -- and both have an unrealistic understanding of the importance of their own views. (Ritchie, by the way, stopped serving as pastor there in 1981.)
100-101 -- In his conclusion to the chapter, Avalos shows indeed that he considers textual critics to be time-wasters, as he calls out his "relevance" issue again and declares:
(Textual criticism) becomes more than ever an elite pursuit that will have difficulty asking taxpayters and churchgoers to continue funding an endeavour that brings joys akin to solving Sudoku puzzles, but little benefit to anyone else.
Indeed. Maybe that money can be better spent -- on things like squirrel feed?
Archaeology -- no commentary, as this subject is outside my expertise. Please note that this does not mean that I believe Avalos' arguments in this and later chapters I bypass could not be overturned and devastated by someone competent in the relevant fields. I have good reason, given Avalos' poor judgment, to think otherwise.
Though portended to be on the historical Jesus, Avalos says much in this chapter rather on the Resurrection. He also criticizes the Jesus Seminar for a while.
186 -- The theme here is that no one in scholarship has produced any "verifiable knowledge about Jesus..." What Avalos means by "verifiable" is not explained. It is not clear to what extent he regards any history as "verified," much less does he lay out any sort of epistemology of historical knowing. He does note correctly that there is a tendency to reconstruct a Jesus in one's own image, but this does not by itself rebut any particular reconstruction.
187-190 -- Avalos offers an extended commentary on William Lane Craig and his method to prove the resurrection. Since Craig's method is not my own, I have few comments, though I will remind the reader that this does not mean Avalos' retorts are necessarily sound.
I would make the point that the distinction between natural and supernatural made by McCullagh  is completely contrived. I would also note that Avalos offers a very poor reading of Craig when he claims that Craig argues that the resurrection of Jesus is "a credible event because Jesus made 'radical' and unique claims." Craig says no such thing; he says:
In summary, there are good historical grounds for affirming that Jesus rose from the dead in confirmation of his radical personal claims.
The claims are not referred to in any sort of causative way.
191-194 -- Avalos tries to defuse Craig's arguments with parallels to Marian apparitions. Since again this has to do with Craig's method and not mine, I have little comment, but a few points come to mind.
First, though Avalos says that the children of Medjuhgorge "affirm that they saw Mary as a fully physical and real person" , it is far from clear from what Avalos quotes that they would affirm that what they saw was Mary's resurrected body as opposed to some other physical manifestation. Indeed, he only quotes one of the people as saying she was so close that "I can touch her." [214n] The fuller quote impllies nothing of the sort:
I see Our Lady the same way that I see you, I talk to Her the same way that I talk to you. I can touch Her. The beauty of Our Lady is very hard to describe in words. I can say that She wears a gray dress, white veil, blue eyes, and rosy cheeks. She has black hair. She always floats on a cloud. And She has a crown of stars. And this painting you see behind me, maybe this is the closest one to the way Our Lady looks like. But I am repeating (that) the human dictionary is too poor to describe the beauty of Our Lady. During one apparition, we asked Our Lady, "Mother, how come that you are so beautiful?" She said, "I am beautiful because I love. My dear children, you must love, then all of you will be beautiful." (Silence) Try. Let us try. Please pray with me.
And he also said:
CW: You say you can touch Our Lady?
ID: I say I can touch her if I want to, but I haven't. My children have. This was at Christmas time, when I lifted my children up and just looking at the reaction in my children's eyes when they were touching her is difficult to put into words.
My children - one is seven, one is three, and one is 16 months old - and you could see on their face the experience they had, that they lived. I didn't ask them about it because they are still young to describe this and how they felt. My children will be able to carry that gift and appreciate it.
Avalos, however, proceeds as if this were the case, attempting to defuse Craig's argument with an alleged parallel, such as that Mary's tomb has never been found, etc. The parallel would never work in any event, because by the time of the Medjugorge apparitions, Mary's body would have rotted anyway; and no one has been looking for her tomb for this purpose in the first place.
The bottom line is that Avalos is defending a proposition no one is claiming -- that Mary was resurrected as Jesus was. It's not even clear what "rival explanations"  Avalos thinks exist for the Medjugorge appearances.
But now to his replies to some of Craig's arguments for the Resurrection [192-4]. Needless to say, we'd expect one-paragraph responses to be inadequate, and these Avalos offers are that. Italics represent Craig's arguments.
I put these two together because Avalos' answers show a lamentable lack of knowledge of the social world of the NT. His comparison to stories of Elvis' tomb being empty, and his dismissal that we "do not actually know whether the disciples were willing to die for anything," is simply wrong, per this. (Note to Avalos: We answered Price's reply in there, too.)
Otherwise he makes much of the Corinthians being 700 miles away from Jerusalem and not being able to verify the claims -- what about Diaspora Jews who returned to Jerusalem for festivals? Of course they could verify the claims -- they had the means, and as the linked article shows, the motive.
He also claims that Acts 13:27-29 wrongly pegs "the residents of Jerusalem" for putting Jesus in his tomb when it was his disciples who did it, per Matthew 28. Why Avalos doesn't also note that Luke (the author of Acts) also reports this is hard to see -- but Price failed on this one also.
Moreover, minor slips like these are alleged to be occur even in Tacitus, regarded as the most reliable ancient historian, but no one rejects his work in entirety because of it.
Not only is it telling that Avalos resorts to a mere TWO citations to create a "persistent literary device"; it is worse that one of them is from a fictional movie -- even worse, as anyone who say ID will remember, the drunk was considered unreliable, but his testimony about the aliens was actually true according to the movie. The "device" in that case actually disproves Avalos.
Avalos also hints at a Christ-myth thesis, as he calls references by Josephus and Tacitus "supposed references" and dismisses their value because the manuscripts are all of "medieval date...so one cannot be sure what has been added." 
197 -- The next few pages can only be defended personally by Craig, by the Jesus Seminar, and by Stanley Porter, in turn. It is worth note that Avalos advertises here for Robert Price (whose Deconstructing Jesus is described as "a devastating critique of historical Jesus studies"), Earl Doherty (whose myth thesis is called "plausible"), Burton Mack, and Gerd Ludemann.
On page 203 Avalos repeats a point answered here.
206-7 -- Avalos tries to demonstrate the "vacuity" of getting back to historical statements by quoting two versions of a sentence spoken to a man named Casca who attacked Caesar. Both were written by Plutarch, and while one has Caesar saying, "Accursed Casca, what doest thou?", the other has him say, "Impious Casca, what doest thou?" Avalos posts these and says, "Trying to find which words Caesar actually spoke is beyond our ability, as Plutarch himself could have invented and varied these words for his own purposes."
The problem is again overstated. The words were no doubt originally spoken in Latin, and Avalos quotes Greek versions. Whatever Caesar said in Latin was likely suitably transmitted by either word. Either way, the question doesn't resolve to Caesar saying something like, "Gimme a kiss, Casca!"
In addition, he brings out the spectre of conflicts in the Medjugorge accounts; I say it's an anachronism and irrelevant, as demonstrated by the factors we discuss here. Avalos says that the stories from Medjugorge "should be a very fixed tradition" but fails to explain why, or what tradition-fixing procedures were used or available, much less how these parallel techniques of oral memorization and transmission used in the first century. (That is not to say that the Medjugorge accounts cannot be readily harmonized with some of the same principles; but it remains that Avalos substantially fails to demonstrate a parallel.)
209 -- Here Avalos cites the example of the Belgian surrealist painter Magritte, who is supposed to have had "an acute insight into the nature of reality and its representation." Magritte did a painting called "The Treachery of Images" which consisted of a pipe, and a caption that said, "This is not a pipe." Avalos is enamored of Magritte's wit at befuddling viewers, so: "To anyone familair with the history of philosophy, Magritte was simply stating what is otherwise obvious; you are not looking at a pipe, but at a 'picture of a pipe.'"
Actually, no one would deny that the painting was a picture of a pipe, but semantically, we have arrived at shortcuts to refer to such representations. If Magritte's alleged "warning" was "not to confuse reality with representation," then it seems clear that he was as much affected by a form of fundamentalism as Avalos is.
Avalos' point is apparently to try to erect doubts by pointing out that we only have "representations" of Jesus, David, the Iron Age, etc. through texts. It is useless to use this as a point to raise doubts or to say that any portraits made are "doomed to interminable speculation."  It remains that some "speculations" are better grounded and more informed than others. Avalos simply wishes to dismiss all of them en masse, and it is not hard to see why: To do otherwise would compel him to admit evidence that he doesn't want to hear.
210-1 -- A brief section about non-canonical Gospels here, in which Avalos even manages to declare that the Gospel of Judas (!) is no less or more verifiable than the canonical Gospels. Other points evince similar discredibility. For example, the scrap of John called P52 is taken as evidence that John's Gospel existed as early as 125 AD, but Avalos, not needing evidence to say so, declares that it "cannot tell us if the unpreserved part of that manuscript bears a Gospel of John much like ours."
For someone who derides "interminable speculation" this is quite an ironic statement.
212 -- Avalos closes the chapter again deriding scholars for wasting time on the Bible and accuses them yet again of just trying to keep themseles employed.
Aesthetics -- no commentary, as I have no interest in defense of this field
Bibliolatry -- no commentary, as I have no interest in defense of the five persons Avalos addresses. However, readers may find Loren Rosson's comments of interest here
Ch. 7 -- really nothing new here, as Avalos goes on about relevance and how religious many scholars are.
Ch. 8 -- More of the same, as Avalos objects -- from his comfortable classroom and his squirrel-watching duties --- to how Biblical scholars don't do anything to help the poor, etc. which is presumably a problem because we don't have any real charities out there to do the work.
Ch. 9 -- More of the same here, though it is ironic that Avalos makes something of The Da Vinci Code having "challenged many common Christian beliefs" [325 -- which is rather a positive spin!] when his two fellow Skeptics, Ehrman and Price, managed to write books on it. Avalos actually believes, also, that movies like The Passion and The Prince of Egypt are done to "portray the Bible and its characters in the best light possible" and to "promote certain visions of Christian theology." 
I believe Avalos is too close to the center of the universe in his own mind.
Ch. 10 -- The conclusion, which simply sums up what came before, and in which Avalos contradicts himself openly on the same page  and conspicuously fails to notice:
- "Why do we need any ancient text at all, regardless of what morality it espouses?"
- "Mine would also be the less self-interested option because it would not have my own employment as an ultimate goal, and it would allow thousands of other texts that have not yet been given a voice to also speak about the possible wisdom, beauty, and lessons they might contain. Indeed, thousands of Mesopotamian texts continue to lie untranslated."
Well....which is it? Note too that Avalos is the one who would translate these texts, but he has said it is not the "ultimate" goal -- it is still A goal in his process, and thus he obscures the truth yet again.