Review: Hunting for the Word of God

I haven't had much in the way of dealings with Muslim apologists; my few encounters have shown me that Muslim apologetics has a highly derivative nature, which is to say, they tend to just borrow ammo from others rather than come up with their own material. Sami Ameri's Hunting for the Word of God is a case in point; the bulk of this book could be summed up as a case of Ameri hunting for any statement by any textual critic suggesting the least amount of doubt on any issue related to the textual criticism of the New Testament, and collecting them all into one big mishmash, and then smugly posing as though Christians ought to panic because he's managed to assemble this Frankenstein.

What continually escapes Ameri, however, is that Christians as a whole don't need a Bible that is handed down as though still dictated word for word. In fact, much of his projected worrywarting obviously derives from an assumption that Christians need for the Bible to be as he supposes the Quran to be -- preserved with often word for word accuracy from Day 1 of writing until now.

Well, sorry, Sami -- that's not the case. And while I didn't find anything in this book that I don't handle in Trusting the New Testament (including Ameri's apparent obsession with the "obscure zone" between the time of the writing of the NT, and the earliest substantial manuscripts), it is rather breathtaking the way Ameri (who has no qualifications in the field of textual criticism) presumes to dictate to what he calls the "inflated arrogance" of those who practice textual criticism [9] just because they won't drop into panic-crisis mode when he thinks they should.

Needless to say, Ameri doesn't deal with the fact that his paranoid criteria for textual reliability would render the whole of ancient history a blank slate. He bypasses that matter quickly and quietly in one paragraph, declaring that "it is nonsensical to use books for whose texts no one can vouchsafe complete integrity to prove the faithful transmission of the New Testament," [37] adding rather irrelevantly that we can't be certain of the Homeric authorship of the Iliad. So there you have it folks: Latin scholars are being "nonsensical" for relying on a text like Tactitus' Annals. Isn't it nice to know that Ameri is here to set all those people straight? And yet he also has the nerve to speak of "inflated arrogance"?

Even when Ameri gets down to specific textual problems, he's as lost in the woods as Hansel and Gretel being followed by a vacuum cleaner. For some reason, he expects intelligent Christians like Daniel Wallace to wring their hands because later scribes expanding Luke 11:11-12 so that there is a third pair of items in opposition. The panic-polemic brings to mind for me to draw a cartoon of Ameri as a tiny chihuahua, jumping up and down and barking, "Worry! Worry! Worry!!!" Inflated arrogance? Not him.

A final section of his book discusses the textual state of the Quran, which frankly would not interest me even if all that Ameri said about it were accurate. I'll leave that aspect to others rather than collect sound bites a la Ameri.


Ameri's response, and mine n turn:

I just came across a “snap review” of my book made by J.P. Holding, an internet-amateur apologist, who worked formerly as a prison librarian.

And Muhammed formerly worked as a shepherd. This proves what?

I am happy to receive critiques on Hunting, but I did not expect a serious one from Holding whose commentaries are haracterized by being childishly insulting and for lacking credibility. Many Christian apologists are not even satisfied with the level of his discussions and arguments.

Gee that’s funny. I have a whole resume’ filled with Christian apologists who are satisfied with my work. So who does poor little Ameri think he’s talking about here? Oh...er...he appeals to a pseudonymous review by some guy who called himself “Mandude” on Amazon Books, who isn’t even an apologist, and who posted a whiny non-review of one of my books. Or actually, the same whiny non-review on several of my books. But of course. That’s far more authoritative.

Ironically, Holding has accused the author of having “no qualifications in the field of textual criticism”, though Biblical studies, including textual criticism, is part and parcel of Islamic studies, and is one of the fields in which the author has worked for years.

Um, that doesn't mean Ameri knows squat about Biblical textual criticism. And he doesn't. All he does is rape the works of serious textual critics of the Bible, culling out whatever sound bites he thinks helps his manufactured case. At the same time, this doesn’t answer the point that Ameri has no qualifications in the field. That it is “part and parcel of Islamic studies” doesn’t tell us a thing. It doesn’t tell us to what extent he has studied textual criticism, what level of proficiency he has achieved in textual criticism, how many peer reviewed journal articles he has written on textual criticism, and so on. To that extent, it is clear that Ameri is nothing but what the New Testament called a spermologos – a seed picker who passes off the ideas of others as his own.

It is mind-boggling that Holding, whose only advanced degree is a Master’s Degree in Library Science, assumes that he, himself, is qualified to write books and articles on textual criticism, canon studies, theology, philosophy …. without any academic qualifications in these fields whatsoever!

Yes, I am qualified to write such books and articles. That is because I am using sources that are qualified in those fields. That is what an information scientist does, and it is what they do properly. It is also why I recognized Ameri as an academic fraud: Because he does NOT use those sources properly. Rather, he uses them prejudicially, to achieve a desired end which isn’t to inform or to educate, but to sway by emotion and fear. Ameri is typical of the “Johnnie Cochran” method of apologetics, throwing bowls of spaghetti against the wall in the hopes that something will stick and make a pretty picture that will make uninformed and gullible readers go “Gawrsh” like Goofy does.

Why does Holding not accuse Norman Geisler, of lacking qualifications in textual criticism because he writes on New Testament textual criticism as well as Islamic studies, or complain that James White, the Theologian, who still does not know that Sahidic is not a different language from Coptic and still makes this ridiculous mistake in his book, has no qualifications because he writes on Textual Criticism and Islam?

Ummmm.....Ameri (or his plagiarizer?) should have checked Geisler's name on my website. I've slapped him down more than a few times for talking outside his expertise. I've also done the same to James White, when he and I had a few rounds a few years ago. I also express my disdain for Geisler and White by not recommending many of their works in by bibliographies. I have certainly never recommended White’s books on Islam, or related to anything he says about textual criticism. I have also only recommended some of Geisler’s introductory work on apologetics, but those were co-authored by people like Frank Turek (who in Geisler’s case are actually the real authors), and I give much higher place to others, like Lee Strobel.

I'll lend Ameri a crowbar so he can get that foot out of his mouth. Meanwhile, this is a perfect example of what I mean about him. He shoots off his mouth with sound bites, without doing serious research.

J.P. Holding and the rest of the Christian apologist team are still using the same weak opening in their counter arguments: “I never saw a serious Muslim author and I do not expect to find a serious one! All the Muslim apologists have a very limited knowledge and spent no serious time to study the material!” It is an oft-repeated cliché, that no longer holds water because Muslim scholars are gaining more and more ground in the inter-faith dialogue in the West year after year.

Oh wow. So they're going from .050 hitters to .075 hitters. Whoop dee doo. No matter. It’s still the same. I still have yet to see a serious Muslim apologist. Almost all they have ever done is borrow material from atheists or others, and when they do strike out on their own, it’s like watching Cirque de Soliel. The one Muslim I engaged in depth some years ago, Nadir Ahmed, made an absolute fool of himself arguing with me over Britney Spears, and thinking one of my cartoon characters was a real person. I’m not kidding.

Holding cannot say that the author of the Hunting does not know his subject, so he accuses him of reiterating “any statement by any textual critic suggesting the least amount of doubt on any issue related to the textual criticism of the New Testament, and collecting them all into one big mishmash, and then smugly posing as though Christians ought to panic because he's managed to assemble this Frankenstein.”

Yes, I can say he doesn’t know his subject. All he knows is how to parrot what he reads. That is like reciting the Quran in Arabic when you don’t even speak Arabic. Ameri makes up his own rules for what can be accepted in a text, and the result is a tragic mishmash with almost no coherence. That’s because his goal is not to inform or to educate, but to achieve the questionable result of dismissing the New Testament record to whatever extent he personally finds it convenient.

First: Being aware of the old cliché of stiff neck apologists, I made it clear in the introduction to my book that: “To prevent any accusations that the author is subjective and relying on weak theories, many authorities in the discipline of textual criticism will be quoted. Most of these authorities are respected scholars, even by conservative theological seminary standards.” (p.5). Unfortunately, these angry apologists cannot abandon their old tactics!

Ameri said that, and he can say it all he wants. It's just an obfuscation. I didn't say he was subjective or relying on weak theories. I said he was cherry-picking. Unfortunately, these angry Muslim apologists cannot abandon their obfuscations!

Second: The history of the transcribing of the text of the New Testament is really catastrophic, so I cannot possibly be blamed because the earliest Christian generations were careless about their holy scriptures. Thus, I was not hunting down “any textual critic suggesting the least amount of doubt”, I was merely taking due note of the scholarly job done by the most accredited scholars in the field, to which I added my own insight, which is deeply rooted in the Islamic perception of the whole issue. The Hunting did not take all that had been written on the subject for granted. Only documented assertions found a place in our search for the virgin text. Therefore, it most definitely does not constitute a mishmash, but is a solid and coherent thesis, the conclusions of which are defended by many renowned scholars in the world.

Yes, it does constitute a mishmash, and that is exactly what it is, Ameri’s attempt to describe a manure pile as a rose garden notwithstanding. He merely seed-picked quotes from the most accredited scholars in the field, added his own poor insight and arbitrary rules for textual criticism, and made up a state of panic based on a false idea of what Christians require for their text.

Third: Muslims are usually accused of not backing up their statements with scholarly academic research. But when we prove how accurate our information is by quoting the highest profile scholars of the present day, in textual criticism, early Christianities, patristic studies, and apocryphal studies, then we are accused of collecting negative assertions with no consistent methodology.

I’m sure the reader notices by now that Ameri has this way of saying precisely nothing over and over again. Like I said, all he did was seed pick sound bites. Collecting negative assertions with no consistent methodology isn’t quite what I said, though. What he did was collect negative assertions with the methodology of doing a lot of hand-waving and screaming as he hopped up and down on a trampoline.

Fourth: The writing of “Hunting for the Word of God” set out to prove that, while the Qur’an was well preserved, we have, unfortunately, lost the original text of the New Testament.

Yeah well...know what? No one ever thought we had it. And no one is in a panic over it except a few wackos like Westboro Baptist and some snake handlers. No one cares. No one thinks it is a problem. No one thinks we can’t reach back with the evidence we have and still get the substance of the New Testament and what it originally said. So again, what’s Ameri’s point, other than that he knows how to bash a panic button repeatedly with his forehead to the point that he now has a foot-wide indentation on his skull? All he did was quote mine the best available studies made by the top scholars of today: Eldon J. Epp, William Petersen, David Parker and Helmut Koester. Add water, make mishmash.

Fifth: The central assertion in the Hunting is that we can NOT reach the original text of the New Testament because our three witnesses are still far from the starting date of the text. I proved thoroughly how limited these witnesses are and I discussed the actual methods used in attempts to reconstruct the earliest text, and proved their deficiency.

And like I said: This is not causing anyone to panic. It isn’t causing anyone to panic because the first manuscript witness for Tacitus is almost 1000 years after he lived, either. So why should we listen to some unqualified hack like Ameri just because he jumps up and down on his panic trampoline? Is he smarter than all those textual critics in all those fields? No, he is not. He’s just a hack with an agenda.

In another of his assertions, Holding states that:- “What continually escapes Ameri, however, is that Christians as a whole don't need a Bible that is handed down as though still dictated word for word.”

This makes me really wonder if Holding actually read the Hunting! The book set out to prove, and proved, that we cannot trust any of the passages of the New Testament because we have no idea how the text looked when it was first written. Every verse in the New Testament is under doubt. That does not infer that it was 100% different than the text we have on hand today, it means, rather, that we do not know, of a certainty.

What the point is here is hard to say. This doesn’t address what I said at all, and in fact changes the subject, merely repeating Ameri’s same theme of unwarranted and paranoid panic. The sort of mindset Ameri has here is that of a 2 year old who can’t be certain that Mommy is there unless he actually sees her right there, and when she steps in another room, he bawls and wails and cries because, even though he saw her go in the other rooms, can hear her walking and talking, and can even smell her perfume, he can’t have “certainty” that she is there because he can’t actually SEE her. This is the sort of infantile spirituality and epistemology Ameri wants us to possess, and surrender to?

Holding goes on to claim that:-“ I didn't find anything in this book that I don't handle in Trusting the New Testament”.

To be frank, Holding’s Trusting the New Testament is mere amateurish writing with a complete lack of awareness as to what competent scholars have discovered thus far. Therefore, I do not expect any reader to take his book seriously.

Ameri blah blah blahs on about this for a few weeks, but it all boils down to, “Nah, I’m too chicken and ignorant to refute it.” Next.

Holding acknowledges that the New Testament was not perfectly preserved but that the witnesses we have today assure us that we have not lost the substance of the text.This defense is grossly inadequate because it does not define properly the “substance of the text”, which leads us away from the issue about which we are disputing.

Does Ameri perhaps need help finding a dictionary? Given his infantile screaming, I rather thought he sat on one at the dinner table. Let’s see...how about this one?

Substance: That which is solid and practical in character, quality, or importance…

It’s rather shocking that an alleged scholar like Ameri needs this much help defining simple words, but I suppose that’s the way it is when your “scholarship” is really nothing but sound bites.

I do not dispute the substance of the text, rather I am arguing against the substance of the doctrine of the church and its prooftexts.

And doing a very poor job of it. Next?

I do not deny the originality of the substance of the text because it is hard to imagine a good reason to invent these textual claims in the obscure zone.

That’s nice. So in other words, Ameri admits that his book was all about a pedantic and useless complaining about not having the text word for word exact. Which was precisely what I said of it.

I argue that Jesus’ divinity, the trinity, the universality of Jesus’ mission, and many other central tenets in the Christian theology are based on a miniscule number of passages that have already been deemed as being later additions to the text through manuscriptural or philological studies.

Yeah, sure, Ameri. Like your knowledge of things like the Trinity comes off of anything but a cereal box? Nope. The critical passages have not “been deemed as being later additions to the text through manuscriptural or philological studies,” unless you are ignorant enough to think that, e.g., 1 John 5:7 is all there is to the Trinity. But we can hardly expect a seed-picker to have any depth knowledge of things like hypostatic expressions of the Ancient Near East, now, can we?

WE DO NOT NEED TO CREATE A COMPLEX CONSPIRACY STORY TO PROVE THAT THESE FEW VERSES WERE ADDED IN THE EARLY DECADES OF THE TRANSMISSION OF THE TEXT.

We don’t need “these few verses” either. So when Ameri goes on to quote me in TNT about scribal practice, he’s talking to thin air.

The only problem I have with Holding’s assertion is that it was made originally by Holding to prove that if we find an error in the holy text, then we only have to blame the scribes not the author. It is a fantastic way to think outside the box.

No, it’s a fantastic way to use textual critical principles. And to avoid specifics.

Moreover, if he is serious, he needs to refute all the charges against the infallibility of the New Testament text cited in the Hunting.

No, I don’t. No one defends the infallibility of the current text. That said, I have thousands of articles which include ones on items related to those cherry picked by Ameri, as well as others which deal with similar conceptual issues. So it’s him who has work to do, not me. Paranoid suspicion is not argument, and I have dealt with Ameri’s silly “obscure zone” issue in TNT.

Holding insists that The Hunting author accused “those who practice textual criticism” of inflated arrogance “just because they won't drop into panic-crisis mode when he thinks they should.”

This is not an accurate quote! I was not addressing scholars of 2013, because the majority of them agree with the Hunting! I cannot understand why it is so difficult for most Christian apologists to be fair and accurate.

It wasn’t presented as a quote in the first place, so why Ameri is whining about it not being an “accurate quote” is hard to say. It was a description of his work, and it is accurate. I cannot understand why it is so difficult for most Muslim apologists to be fair and accurate (snort).

The naivety of most of the scholars half a century ago when they were trying to define the goal of the textual critic discipline as the reconstruction of the original text is noticeable in the shift of the discipline’s goal.

Ameri’s alleged point here is that these days, textual critics speak with less certainty than they used to. To which I say: So what? Like I said in TNT, a lot of this has more to do with postmodern thinking than it does with evidence. At the same time, such statements are made concerning the text as a whole, not of individual readings, such that when Ameri presents these quotes as representing a problem for every individual reading, including texts for which there is no dispute or question or deciding variant evidence, he is not being honest. In other words, like I said, he is seed picking to create a mishmash.

Another charge Holding brings is that: “Ameri doesn't deal with the fact that his paranoid criteria for textual reliability would render the whole of ancient history a blank slate. He bypasses that matter quickly and quietly in one paragraph, declaring that "it is nonsensical to use books for whose texts no one can vouchsafe complete integrity to prove the faithful transmission of the New Testament."

Calling for the originality of the old texts to defend the New Testament is enough to prove how miserable the case of the transmission of the New Testament is. Christian apologists need to produce their own witnesses, for their own text, not to mourn the old texts because the New Testament fails to pass the test of trustworthiness when examined.

Say what? This isn’t answering my point, but again, dodging it. It is also functionally admitting that I have correctly characterized Ameri as turning all of history into a blank slate, and for failing to deal with this as a problem for his position. Ameri fails to realize that sticking his tongue out and putting his thumbs in his ears and going “neener neener” isn’t an answer to this. He has essentially said that ALL texts of ancient history (Tacitus, Josephus, etc) “fail to pass the test to trustworthiness,” and has failed to defend this extremist position, which he needs to, especially in light of the fact that he is not a classicist or a historian, and he is effectively calling all such scholars academic frauds who are relying on untrustworthy texts for their work. And again, he speaks of “inflated arrogance”?

Ameri will likely not have the gumption to answer this question directly, but I will ask it anyway: Given the condition of the textual tradition of Tacitus’ Annals, should historians scrap it as a historical source? Yes or no?

We do not trust the New Testament manuscripts and the other witnesses because of their deficiency. Consequently, Christians need to show how we can resolve this annoying problem, and not generate deluding analogies.

Righto. The problem is that the analogy shows that Ameri is forced into the uncomfortable and arrogant position of declaring all classical historians who rely on texts like Tacitus as deluded or deceived. But of course, he doesn’t have the nerve to say this outright. Instead, he evades the issue:

It needs to be made abundantly clear that it makes no big difference if the reconstructed text of Tacitus' Annals is not identical to the original. Classicists are content to have a text as close as possible to the original. Conversely, we cannot interact with the supposed Word of God with such ease.

Um, but like I said, that assumes that Christians are text-obsessed to the point that we need piddling accuracy down to the letter. We don’t. It also assumes that we don’t have it as “close as possible” to satisfy our needs. We do. Nothing of what is in question causes us to “risk our salvation” as Ameri puts it. There is not one doubted text that affects our “eternal fate.” Ameri expects us to curl into a fetal position over such pedantic technicalities as how Matthew spells someone’s name in a genealogy. All that shows in turn is how infantile and fearful his own spirituality is.

Holding knows full well that the examples cited in the chapter, “But That Does Not Affect the N.T. Reliability and Message!” ended any hope of taking the New testament as the inerrant word of God and it exposed the disharmony between the earliest reconstructed text and so-called orthodox belief.

I know full well that no one things the copies we now have are inerrant – has Ameri been to Chicago lately? – and that he failed utterly to touch any “orthodox belief” with his Textual Tilt-o-Whirl fantasies. Ameri accuses me of selecting the “least important” example cited, but no, I didn’t – because they were all equally unimportant. And Ameri strangely fails to discuss any example that is really important. I wonder why.

I am wondering why many weak-minded apologetics and fiery racist orators believe that demonizing Muslims with cartoons is still a good idea to bind their eyes so they cannot see the light of the truth.

Well, what can I say, except that if a Muslim really does find his eyes bound by a cartoon, he or she needs to make his or her spirituality a lot more mature. Apparently Ameri is the sort to have a crisis of faith any time he sees Wile E. Coyote blown up.

These loud-mouthed apologists need to try, for a change, to counter an argument with an argument, so that people can listen to them and can weigh their evidence.

If and when Ameri makes a substantial argument, and takes on one that I have already offered in TNT, we’ll take notice of it. Until then, we’ll get out the Dirt Devil and take care of those seed husks he left on the carpet.