On February 22 and 23, I will be conducting a “Snoopy Seminar” at the Hope Center in Plano, Texas (2001 W. Plano Parkway). This seminar is a fun, interactive, and challenging exercise about textual criticism. Enrollment is limited to 60 people. Intended audience: motivated laypeople, though we are not limiting it to them (seminary students may also come, for example).
Here’s the basic idea: On Friday night I will teach some of the basics of New Testament textual criticism. Then, I ask for 22 people to volunteer to be scribes. They go into a separate room and copy out a short text (in English), each with specific instructions designed to increase errors in the copying process and corrupt the text. The text goes through six generations of copying. Meanwhile, the rest of the people (the “textual critics”) are trying to reconstruct the genealogy of the transmission of the text (namely, which scribe copied from whom) and think through what kinds of skills and biases the scribes would have brought to their tasks.
On Saturday morning, we will all get together and the textual critics get busy working on the remaining manuscripts that the scribes produced. Unfortunately, most of the earliest manuscripts have strangely disappeared overnight (including all first-generation copies). The textual critics do the best they can with the manuscripts they’ve got to work with.
They record all the variants and there are always more variants than words in the original text. But unlike New Testament textual criticism, the variants are usually meaningful (the vast bulk of New Testament textual variants are not). The textual critics work in small groups for about three hours. They debate, wrestle with a variety of possibilities about corruption (and which manuscripts are more corrupt than others; all of them are corrupt to some degree), and try to determine the wording of the original “Gospel According to Snoopy.”
Then, all the groups get together and I function as secretary. I write down the major variants on a white board and list what the whole group thinks is the original wording in each place. When I get done posting the variants, the white board is a mess! No one is confident that they have reconstructed the text of Snoopy exactly. Then, a miracle happens: The original text of Snoopy is discovered and they can compare how they did. How close do they get? Well, I’ll leave that for the seminar. I’ve done this 70 times since 1979—in churches, seminaries, colleges, etc. It takes concentrated brain power, a desire to engage verbally with others, and a Sherlock Holmes mindset.
Once we’re finished with the exercise, I show the relevance to New Testament textual criticism. The Snoopy manuscripts and groups of manuscripts actually correspond to known New Testament manuscripts and groups. And this year, we are adding a packet of materials that has notes on some of the most important textual problems in the New Testament.
If you’re interested in joining us, please visit the website for more information or contact Dana Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org —and soon! It’s a great confidence-builder about scripture, suitable for high school students on up. We hope to do this a couple of times a year at the Hope Center, so if you miss out on this one there’s always another one coming down the pike.