A Short Review of Wayne C. Kannaday’s, “Apologetic Discourse and the Scribal Tradition: Evidence of the Influence of Apologetic Interests on the Text of the Canonical Gospels”

Author: Wayne Kannaday is Professor of Religion at Newberry College in South Carolina. He received his PhD from the University of North Carolina with Bart D. Ehrman as his doctoral supervisor. Between his MDiv and post-graduate work, Kannaday served for ten years as the pastor of Mt. Hermon Lutheran Church. (https://www.newberry.edu/faculty/details/kannaday-wayne)

Purpose and thesis: Kannaday’s purpose is to show, through an examination of both historical and textual records, that the scribes of the NT MSS altered their texts from time to time for apologetic purposes, especially defending the barrage of pagan critics over theological or practical concerns in the Gospels.

Review: Kannaday’s book is a well-researched, thorough, and essential contribution to the field of NT TC. He wastes no time in Apologetic Discourse with front matter (the acknowledgements and abbreviations take up a total of three pages) but begins straightaway in chapter 1 with the research problem and his methodology against the prevailing methods and state of research in his preferred subset of TC (i.e., socio-historical interests of the text’s transmission). In this chapter he criticizes scholars of the last century for their deference for the literary aspects of NT TC while virtually ignoring the field as it is: a “historical discipline” (4). His purpose is to uncover the reasons for the deviations in the textual record as opposed to simply mapping out textual variants and forming conclusions based on weighing MSS (16). His thesis is driven by the question: “Are any of the variant readings located in the canonical Gospels best explained as the product of scribes acting intentionally to modify their exemplars under the influence of apologetic interests?” (17). Kannaday cleverly likens this process to a chef tampering with a recipe, manipulating the texts, ironically, for the purpose of bolstering them against attacks (23, 250). In chapter 1 he outlines the pagan critics of Christianity (e.g., Celsus, Porphyry, Tacitus, and Suetonius) as well as the Christian apologists who defended the faith (e.g., Origen, Justin Martyr, and Melito of Sardis), with both parties influencing the history of the text’s transmission. 

In chapter 2, Kannaday addresses some of the charges by pagans against the early Christian movement, namely its lack of antiquity and lack of logical continuity (64). One particular critic, Porphyry of Tyre (c. 232-305), leveled numerous accusations against the Scriptures for their “prophetic corrections,” e.g., the disputed reading in Mark 1:2 that indicates Isaiah as the prophet responsible for the quotation, a text that was allegedly later changed to the more generic phrase, “in the prophets” (65). Kannaday gives many examples and observations in chapter 2, leading to the claim that the majority of NT scholars have dealt only with the texts rather than the historical and apologetic crucible that forged such readings. He argues that scribes bolstered their exemplars’ readings to combat such attacks on the faith and on the Scriptures themselves. Chapter 3 continues this refrain but focuses on the critics’ attacks on Jesus himself. Scribes allegedly altered the texts of the Gospels in order to protect the character if Jesus, whose trade as a carpenter had become an embarrassment of sorts and was accused as such by Minucius Felix in his work, Octavius (117). Additionally, Jesus’ critics accused him of being a deceiver of the people and a magician. According to Kannaday, the MS tradition reflects these apologetic concerns and shows that scribes manipulated the MSS to soften the critics’ views of Jesus, a practice that Kannaday calls “scribal apologetics” (139). In chapter 4, Kannaday examines scribal apologetics as it pertains to the followers of Jesus, especially in the critics’ assessment of them as “fools” (167) and “hysterical women” (177). Chapter 5 is an account of the apologetic textual tradition as it relates to the Roman state, and chapter 6 includes a summary of the book as well as methodological considerations for further research.

Kannaday’s work is to be praised for its boldness and thoroughness. Most chapters follow the same basic format (introduction of critics’ attacks, apologists’ defense, and ensuing textual modifications in response), but the book is in no way predictable or drab. His conclusions typically follow the data explicitly with a few exceptions (e.g., the arguments for apologetic alteration ending on pp. 96, 128, and 133). He does, however, have a good bit of “apologetic filler” that does little justice to his case and really just takes up space, such as the variant in Luke 9:54 where the addition states, “just as Elijah did” (76). His conclusions here are less than “concrete” (78) and do little to forward his position. The same may be said for his rather weak (but lengthy) account of the variant in John 7:6, 8 (93-97). In fact, his examination of the “eclipse” (or lack thereof) in Luke 23:45 is much more substantive but sadly only receives a fraction of the treatment as the variant in John 7:6 (97-98). Kannaday also favors the “Western” textual stream quite a bit for its apparent apologetically motivated variants, and he uses this stream often in his arguments for apologetic alterations. In fact, one can almost blindly open the book to a random page and encounter a variant that hinges on the D-text (cf. 127, 129, 152, 183, etc.). However, barring these criticisms, Apologetic Discourse is essential reading in the field of TC and should be considered a leap forward in the socio-historical study of textual variation.

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