On parle toujours mal quand on n'a rien à dire (One always speaks badly when one has nothing to say.)
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( I i)!
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. One reviewer of his book ”Trusting the New Testament”, writes: “J.P. Holding has many good intentions, but his efforts in apologetics are marred by his use of mockery and insult. As a brother in the Lord I cannot support Holding's ministry. Mockery and insult have no place in any ministry representing Jesus Christ, much less apologetics. Often Holding even likes to insult other Christian ministers like in this following quote insulting Francis Schaeffer.”(See Holding’s comments here!)
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. 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! 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?
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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. The author did not have as a goal to create a new and surprising theory in order to prove that his study was worthy of trust, he proved the strength and the accuracy of his comparative analysis with the help of the best available studies made by the top scholars of today; Eldon J. Epp, William Petersen, David Parker and Helmut Koester.
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.
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.
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. It is the
same fluff that you read in Christian amateurs’ blogs. Holding’s “study” on the authorship of the books of the New Testament is literally scandalous and not deserving of being refuted by serious scholars. But let us stick to the textual critic
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.
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.
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. These themes do not go beyond:
- The existence of a man called Jesus (He is not a myth).
-Jesus lived in Palestine (not in Rome).
-He performed wonders (He was not an ordinary person).
-He had followers (He was not hiding somewhere in the desert).
-He had enemies among the Jews (He was not welcomed by the people of Israel).
-He was hung on the cross (He did not die due to leprosy).
Hardly anything beyond these claims can be defended as a substantial theme in the gospels.
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.
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.
But how can we suppose that an original reading might disappear from all the extant manuscripts?
The answer is offered by none other than Holding, “the lack of materials and skilled scribes in ancient times dictates
that there were very few copies made to begin with, so that there is no instance of a single scribe transcribing the same error into hundreds, thousands, ect. manuscripts. What there would be is a single scribe making the error once, an error that is then preserved as successive single manuscripts are transcribed, until such time as mass copying procedures and schools existed – and then, the error is preserved in successive manuscripts.” (Trusting, p.127).
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
So the debate now with Holding is not about the possibility of an early distortion of the text, which is something he
accepts, but with the claim that most of the Christian tenets are based on a small number of passages.
Moreover, if he is serious, he needs to refute all the charges against the infallibility of the New Testament text cited in the
To sum up, I declare that,
· The originality of each verse in the New Testament is under suspicion because we know nothing about the obscure zone, i.e. the earliest period of the transmission of the text.
· Many of the central doctrines of the church are textually proven unauthentic or dubious.
· The earliest reconstructed text of the New Testament revealed the fact that the scribes in the earliest centuries altered the text to make the errors and discrepancies disappear. Hence, we should expect further “cleaning up” in the obscure zone.
This is where we are!
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. 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. The evangelical textual critic scholar Wasserman remarked upon this sudden move. He gave as example the editors of the NA. He writes, “Kurt Aland concluded, when the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland text appeared in 1979, that "a hundred years after Westcott-Hort, the goal of an edition of the New Testament ‘in the original Greek' appears to have been reached." When the 27th edition was released in 1993, however, the editors expressed themselves with more caution in the introduction to the volume: ‘It should naturally be understood that this text is a working text (in the sense of the century-long Nestle tradition): it is not to be considered as definitive, but as a stimulus to further efforts toward defining and verifying the text of the New Testament.” In 2012, the editors of NA28 gave up hunting for the original text. Thus, moving from an extreme position to the opposite extreme is ample reason to believe that the old view stems from “inflated arrogance” and immature thinking.
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.
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.
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. We cannot risk our salvation by trusting a doubted text. If one thinks seriously about his eternal fate, then he will conclude definitively that the equal treatment of religious, as opposed to,
secular documents, is absurd, totally absurd.
Holding goes on to say: “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.”
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. We find in that chapter that many early readings disappeared because they held erroneous statements, as acknowledged by the Fathers of the church, or that they plainly contradict parallel passages in the other books of the New Testament, and many Christian tenets are found without textual support. Holding, completely lost in the woods of unhappy facts, tried to minimize his panic by citing the least important example cited. And here is what I wrote:
“Egg and bread
Luke 11:11-12. “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a
fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?” (KJV).
The earliest copies of Luke have two pairs mentioned in Jesus’ analogy: fish/serpent and egg/scorpion, while Matthew’s parallel passage has two different pairs: bread/stone and fish/serpent. Later scribes expanded Luke’s version to three pairs:
fish/serpent, bread/stone, and egg/scorpion, to make it resemble Matthew’s account.” (p.117).
Wallace and the rest of the editors team of the New English translation had in the footnote of Luke 11:11: “Most mss
(א A C D L W Θ Ψ F1,13 33 M lat syc,p,h bo) have “bread, does not give him a stone instead, or” before “a fish”; the longer
reading, however, looks like a harmonization to Matt 7:9. The shorter reading is thus preferred, attested by P45,75 B 1241 pc
This is an evident discrepancy that disappeared for many centuries, but then was rediscovered and reappeared in modern English translations. The message here is that scribes did their best to preserve the infallibility of the word by remaining faithful to the doctrine of infallibility, and not to the word itself! Today, we know that the manuscripts of the second century are different from the manuscripts of the ninth century in substantial doctrinal belief; the text as it appears in the manuscripts of the second century is full of discrepancies and errors.
Holding ends his “review?” thus: “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!!!”
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. 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.
To conclude, I would like to say that after watching the Richard Carrier-Holding debate, I have come to believe even more strongly, that Holding’s knowledge about the actual debate concerning the recovering of the original text and its impact on our understanding of Jesus’ message, is almost non-existent. Carrier, however scored very good points (slide show) in the debate, ones worthy of consideration. You can read about these objections and many more detailed facts in the Hunting.
5 July 2013
 James White, What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur'an, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 2013, p.252; The King James only controversy: can you trust the modern translations?, Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 1995, pp.27-8
 Tommy Wasserman, ‘The implications of Textual Criticism for Understanding the ‘Original text’” in Mark
and Matthew I. Comparative Readings: Understanding the Earliest Gospels in their First Century Settings,
edited by Eve-Marie Becker and Anders Runesson, p.78