Dr. Hector Avalos Responds to JP Holding/Robert Turkel

The following was written by Dr. Avalos in response to JP Holding:

Over at Theologyweb, James Patrick Holding (aka Robert Turkel) has begun what he calls an “in depth” review of my book, The End of Biblical Studies (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2007).

However, it does not take long to realize that Holding offers neither depth nor competence in biblical studies. Indeed, it is not a good sign of research competence when that review begins with a patently false statement about my background. As he phrased it:

My first knowledge of Hector Avalos was as (supposedly) a partner of Robert Greg Cavin promoting the "evil twin Jesus" theory. There was supposed to be some sort of book in the works from those two, but as far as I know, nothing came of it.

However, I had never interacted with, or recall even reading anything by, this Robert Greg Cavin before seeing Holding’s claims about my supposed collaboration with him.

Since, Holding calls this “his first knowledge” of me, then it is clear that what he calls “knowledge” turns out to be either a false statement or a lie. He has since agreed to correct this false claim, but that does not change what it reflects about his research skills or honesty. So much for “depth”!!!

Of course, anyone can make an honest mistake, but this false statement is only the start of a Holding pattern seen throughout his review: A series of self-assured statements that turn out to be false, sloppy, misleading, or outright lies.

In general, Holding’s review relies heavily on the following types of arguments:

1. Ad hominem argumentation

2. Ad vericundiam argumentation, an “appeal to authority” that is inadmissible in logic, especially without further explanation of why such an authority is correct.

3. Juvenile rhetorical devices usually repeated ad nauseam ( “whine” “rant” etc.) that could apply equally to his complaints about my book. These devices serve to deflect attention from the lack of substance in Holding’s posts.

Intelligent readers should see these juvenile and unprofessional strategies quite readily, and so I need not spend time on the obvious. But, that amateurish rhetorical clutter does include attempts to address the substance of some of my arguments. Yet, even then, the amateurish nature of Holding’s knowledge of biblical studies is apparent to any professional academic scholar.

To be fair to him, I asked Holding (e-mail 1-9-08) if he would identify the 2-5 of the best arguments against my book, and he declared that “They're all equally strong.” Holding’s flatulent claim means that:

1. If I refute even one of those claims, then such a refutation will expose his lack of credibility in his other claims. For example, if his argument X is not as strong as his argument Y, then I will have shown that he is at least mistaken in how he perceives the strength of his own arguments.

2. He cannot complain that I did not address his strongest arguments, as they are all equally strong to him, and he failed to provide me a specific one when asked.

With that prolegomena behind us, let us now turn our attention to the following claims he makes. Each numbered “REFUTATION” consists of a quote from Holding’s review that I analyze in more depth. The page numbers at the beginning of a quote from Holding refer to the pages of my book that Holding is attacking.

REFUTATION 1: “Avalos is not a textual scholar.”

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.

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.

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

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:

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.

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.

These new criteria have been confirmed and modified by other textual critics, such as in the following article: E. Eynikel and J. Lust, “The Use of [Deuro] and [Deute] in the LXX,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 67:1 (April, 1991): 57-68. For the abstract of this article, see here.

My work on Columbus tried to identify, through the use of textual criticism, the exact edition of the Latin Bible used by Columbus. My work on the Ladino version of the Targum of Ruth critiqued the idea that all printed editions of the Targum of Ruth descended from the so-called Nurnberg manuscript.

In short, I have met the criteria provided by Holding. 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.

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.

When I asked him (e-mail 1-9-08) “what peer reviewed publications have you written in textual criticism?”--- he did not answer that question at all. When I asked him what peer reviewed publications he had written in biblical studies, his response was: “Why? Do you not know where to find them? Is that why your work is so poor?”

But my search in the standard data bases and scholarly resources shows that, unless he is using the name “Bruce Metzger,” there is no peer reviewed work by Holding (or a Robert Turkel) in any respectable journal (unless he counts the “articles” on his blog as peer reviewed research, which it is not). Why he evaded my question is clear enough: He has no qualifications in this area.

More importantly, his claim that I am unable to evaluate textual decisions would apply to him even more so. If not being a textual scholar makes you unable to judge work in textual criticism, then he is unable to judge any of my claims in textual criticism. Mr. Holding, therefore, shows himself to be either a hypocrite or self-deluded.

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. See here.

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.” Source.

In short, his claim that I am not a textual scholar proves as false as his claim about my supposed collaboration with Robert Greg Cavin---It is part of a Holding pattern, not a singular honest mistake.

REFUTATION 2: “[pp.]47-49... The inclusion of this next section in a chapter on translation is an oddity. Avalos rants upon the difference in the age of Jehoachin in 2 Kings vs. 2 Chronicles.”

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 36:9 do 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.”

Note that Holding does not deny that there is a contradiction in the Masoretic Hebrew text, which is my point. Holding switches the issue to WHY there might have been a contradiction in the copies.

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.

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).

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.

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.

One can see that Holding has probably not even checked a single Aramaic papyrus edition before making such inexpert remarks.

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.

Holding also switches the issue here because I was pointing out how readers are not aware that the translation is not following what is in the standard Hebrew text. Again, Holding only tries to justify why translators don’t follow what is actually in the Hebrew text.

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.

And let’s see how consistent Holding is in holding to the inerrancy of the original given the incompetence of the copies and translations. Suppose that Holding believes in the inerrancy of anything original that I write. However, the only witnesses to my writing are flawed copies that use “Robert Turkel” when translating his blog posts into Spanish, even though the English text says “J. P. Holding.”

Those Spanish translations do so because there are other English “witnesses” that attest to “Turkel.” Sometimes, there may even be an English textual witness that misspells “Turkel” as “Turkey” and my Spanish translation will yield the most unfortunate name of Roberto Guajolote.

But given that Holding believes in the inerrancy of the original, then I am sure those Spanish translations will be defended with gusto by Holding. He will hold no grudges, and he will pronounce those translations as pretty close to the original, even if not 100% so.

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 Turkel may know too well).

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.

Being formally trained in Anglo-Saxon literature and having discussed Piers the Plowman in one of my previous peer reviewed articles, I see that he can only fool those who don’t have this training. Consider this pearl offered by Holding:
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"), 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.

My first reaction on reading this was “what”? It is well known that Piers the Plowman existed in AT LEAST THREE manuscripts called the A, B, and C manuscripts, which seem to represent different stages of the poem.

An edito princeps is a standard edition of a text, and Piers the Plowman has been printed a number of times. George Kane has edited a standard version of the A manuscript in his Piers the Plowman, The A Version (University of London Press, 1961). So maybe this is the editio princeps to which Holding refers. Other well-known editions are those called the Kane-Donaldson and Russell-Kane editions.

But speaking about THE editio princeps, without specifying the manuscript version or edition, as being “for a long time the only text available” is just another of those sloppy amateurish descriptions Holding repeats ad nauseam.

Moreover, Holding seems to ignore that calling “softe” the “correct reading” or the “true reading” (what does that mean?) is already prejudiced and is based on a naïve circular reasoning that is increasingly being questioned in the textual criticism of Piers the Plowman, and many other works. Clearly, Holding is over his head here as he is elsewhere.

For more discussion of these issues, see Lee Patterson, “The Logic of Textual Criticism and the Way of Genius: The Kane-Donaldson Piers Plowman in Historical Perspective.” Pages 55-91 in Textual Criticism and Literary Interpretation, edited by Jerome J. McGann (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985).

REFUTATION 3: “[pp.] 56-8...‘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.

I had argued that “Jews” in Acts, among other places, functioned as a “collective” designation and that some NT authors believe in collective punishment for the group identified as “the Jews.”

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.

First, Holding confuses etymological origins of the word “Jew” with how it was used and redefined in later times. 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.

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. And “Jews” can definitely include a religious feature, as is clear in Revelation 3:8-9:
[8] "`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[9] 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.

Here, “Jews” has to do with a religious or symbolic affiliation, and not a territorial-political affiliation, as the letter is addressed to those in a church in what is now Turkey. Similarly, in Galatians 2:14, religious practices do have a role in making someone Jewish or Gentile:
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"

Clearly, living “like a Jew” has nothing to do with living like someone in Judea, but rather with observing certain religious practices (e.g., circumcision) REGARDLESS OF WHERE YOU WERE BORN or living. That is why sometimes it is necessary to specify that Jews were living in Jerusalem where, by Holding’s territorial origin definition, no further specification should be necessary, as in Acts 2:5: “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.”

More importantly, Holding also seems to ignore that collective retribution was a recognized part of biblical thinking. This is clear in Exodus 20:5:
"...for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me."

Holding’s only defense contends that spatial limitations preclude notions of collective thinking on the part of biblical authors. So he offers this humorous mathematical rejoinder:
Is Avalos truly so thick as to imagine 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?

No, Holding is the one too neurally ossified to realize that the author of Acts implies that, when speaking of a particular locality, actions by “Jews” may refer only to the Jews living in that locality. Sometimes this is specified as in Acts 9:22-23:
[22] But Saul increased all the more in strength,and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. [23] When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him,

Thus, we are to understand that “Jews” in v.23 means “the Jews living in Damascus” mentioned in v. 22. Similarly, in Acts 13:50, “Jews” reasonably refers to the Jews in Antioch, the locality mentioned already in vv. 43 and 45.

But that still does not address the problem of collective punishment and guilt, which can be extended to a whole group even if not all of its members were present, or even if they did not all perform any specific action described. Holding ignores that one need not be present or even alive not be reckoned with being guilty of a crime committed by one or a few people belong to a particular group.

Yes, the Bible repeatedly punishes whole groups of people for the actions of a few, as follows:

1. The killing of all men, women, children of the earth in Noah’s Flood (not to mention all animals not aboard Noah’s Ark). The biblical author had no problem with biocide here, even if animals and infants did not participate in any “sins” for which God destroyed humankind (except Noah and his family) in Genesis 6-7.

2. Children to the fourth and fifth generations for those who hate Yahweh (Exodus 20:5).

3. The killing of Amalekite children for the actions of their ancestors (1 Samuel 15:2-3).

4. All of humanity for the sins of Adam (Romans 5:12ff), especially if you follow some orthodox Christian interpretation of imputation

Given such notions of collective punishment, what would prevent NT authors from holding similar views about Jews, especially if they are redefined as those opposed to the true Jews (= Christians) as suggested in Revelation 3:9? 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.

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).

In sum, what Holding seems to hate is his own Bible’s support of collective punishment. He cannot stand the fact that this is a morally reprehensible practice, and so he tries to pretend it does not exist among his cherished NT authors.

REFUTATION 4: “[p.] 70...Avalos' rather appalling ignorance of 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.”

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.

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.

In fact, I argued that even if we could reconstruct perfectly the manuscript (antigraph) behind the existing copies, that still would not mean we have “the original” (autograph). That is because that so-called “original” manuscript could itself be a copy of an earlier manuscript. There is no way to be sure that we have arrived at “the original” for that reason.

Holding does not deny that fact but simply regurgitates this gem: “Conjectural emendation has always been a standard practice in textual criticism, regardless of the availability of original manuscripts.”

This is analogous to arguing that because one bad practice has always been followed, then it is acceptable to follow it. It does not refute my point that determining what an original reading is impossible for the NT or the entire Bible without access to the entire transmission process. The fact that it is “standard practice” does not lessen my objection.

In the case of the NT, for example, the earliest copy we have is P52, a small fragment of John, usually dated to the second century. There is no way to tell whether P52 represents any “original” because about 100 years have passed between any original utterances given by Jesus and the text that purports to represent those utterances (P52 hardly has anything that can be called an utterance of Jesus preserved, anyway).

Holding is helpless in providing us with any specific criteria for how you tell whether any manuscript represents an original when such an original is no longer extant. So, if I am wrong, let Holding answer this question:

How do you know that the reading reconstructed in any antigraph of a biblical set of texts is THE ORIGINAL reading?

REFUTATION 5: “[p.] 83... 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.

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).

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.

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:
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 materials that were intended to be distributed on that material. To put it bluntly, Avalos has lied by obscuring part of the truth which makes a comparison to the NT irrelevant.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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 34:1:

"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).

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.

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.

REFUTATION 6: “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.”

Apparently, I have advanced here from not being a “textual scholar” to now being a “relative novice” in NT textual criticism. The basic problems of reconstructing “the original” remain the same regardless of whether one is doing textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible or the NT.

But, Holding is still holding on to his basic flawed argument from authority. In this case, I was arguing against Bruce M. Metzger’s rationale for omitting “you are God” from the presumed original text of Acts 4:24. Metzger says it was added later by a scribe in order to portray the original author as having a higher sense of reverence.

Holding complains: “Bruce Metzger, who conveniently for Avalos is now deceased and unable to defend himself.” But the viability of arguments does not depend on the metabolic status of a proponent.

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 4:24 is that Metzger “was in a position to know why readings of certain types were to be preferred.”

But Metzger did not say that he omitted “you are God” in Acts 4:24 because he was in a better position to know what the best reading was. Indeed, that is not the sort of rationale that anyone should accept. There must be reasons that can be verified and examined by other scholars even after the scholar dies.

Metzger said that he preferred omission of this phrase because that phrase was “doubtless made in the interest of heightening the apostle’s reverence in prayer” (Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1975),p. 321.

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.

So, in a fit of brilliance, Holding tells us that: “An answer would be to show why Metzger's hypothesis does not account for the data better than a rival hypothesis.” Well, let’s see if that would help:

Metzger hypothesis: “You are God” was added by a scribe to heighten the original author’s sense of reverence.

Avalos hypothesis: “You are God” reflects the original sense of reverence by the original author (i.e., the scribe simply preserves the original author’s sense of reverence).

Now, Mr. Holding, why don’t you tell us again:

1. What data show that Metzger’s hypothesis reflects the scribe’s mind better than that of the original author’s mind?

2. How was Metzger able to tell what was on the scribe’s mind from what was on the original author’s mind?


By now it should be apparent that Holding is an amateur of the worst type: Too uninformed to know that he is uniformed. His so called “depth” review has now been exposed for being equally superficial from his first false claim about my supposed collaboration with Cavin to his sloppy musings on Piers the Plowman.

Holding’s bravado hides a flood of informational gaffes and logical gaps that can only fool the uninitiated in biblical studies. For those who wish to evaluate Holding’s techniques in more depth, please observe:

1. How often Holding relies on on-line materials. I use on-line materials myself, but the problem for Holding is that true depth requires consultation of a mass of materials that still have not been digitized (and Holding often does not bother to consult or cannot find those materials that have been digitized).

2. How Holding often consults the basic apologetic handbooks, and then does not subject them to a deeper and critical reading. His statements about Gleason Archer’s promulgations about the Aramaic numbering system being one example.

3. The repeated complaints about a lack of supposed credentials in his opponents, while exempting himself from this requirement, as he has no real credentials of his own in biblical studies.

4. The ad nauseam use of supposedly clever and verbally abusive rhetorical ploys that not only violate the protocols of professionalism but also are not necessary if his arguments alone could dismantle an opponent’s arguments.

In sum, secularists have nothing to fear from a J. P. Holding, and believers will do better to consult a more professional and informed apologist.


In case Holding attempts to evade the questions I posed to him in the main text above, I have summarized them here (and added/rephrased a few more for the sake of clarity).

1. “What peer reviewed publications have you written in textual criticism?” Please provide full bibliographic references.

2. Do you deny that there is a contradiction in the Masoretic Text between 2 Kings 24:8 and 2 Chronicles 36:9 as to the age of Jehoiachin when he began to reign?

3. How does the fact that conjectural emendation is a standard procedure in textual criticism change the fact that conjectural emendation cannot determine an original reading without direct access to the autograph?

4. If the reading of an autograph cannot be determined through textual criticism, then how did you determine that autograph to be free of error?

5. How did you determine that it was a copyist, rather than the original author, who had the number 8 in 2 Chronicles 36:9?

6. How did you determine that “softe” is the correct or “original” reading for line 1 of Piers the Plowman?

7. Which Aramaic Papyrus did you consult (at the time you first wrote your response to me, not after I exposed your ignorance of Aramaic papyri) when checking on Gleason’s claims about the Aramaic numbering system? If you did consult one, why didn’t you cite it specifically?

8. How was Metzger able to tell what was on the scribe’s mind from what was on the original author’s mind in Acts 4:24?

9. Given your complaints about my critique of Metzger, have you ever critiqued the arguments of a scholar who is deceased? If so, why can we not call that hypocrisy?

10. How does the fact that the Res Gestae was written on bronze change the fact that its content has a better claim to preserving the actual words of its presumed author (Augustus Caesar) compared to the NT manuscript claims to preserve the words of Jesus? How would any superiority of the Res Gestae change if the same words of Caesar were written on papyrus preserved from his time?

11. Given our discussion of collective punishment, do you believe that genocide (especially those involving infants) is always wrong? YES or NO?