From my diary

I am continuing to turn my reference books into PDFs by taking the covers off and breaking them into sections, guillotining the edge and then scanning them.  This is going well.

I also visited a local second hand bookshop and purchased a few classics for a couple of dollars each.  These were books that I already had, but where I wanted to retain my cherished paper copy.

One thing that I would like to do is to scan Christian paperbacks from the 1980s in the same way.  Unfortunately it seems that charity shops and second-hand shops tend to discard “religious” paperbacks as unsaleable.

I now have a couple of monster volumes to do.  One of these is an Italian reference volume which I bought in a bookshop in the Via della Conciliazione in Rome, the street that leads up to the Vatican.  It has since been translated into English, and it would be more useful to me in PDF.  Another is a monstrous volume sent to me for review, which I consider unreadable in paper form.  I think that it is a show volume, created solely to impress, rather than inform.  Anyway, it would be better in PDF.

A correspondent drew my attention to a series of volumes giving yet another “real Jesus” narrative.  I am preparing a review of one of the key points of this theory; but it doesn’t really seem to be widely known, and I am nervous of giving it publicity.

In the process I discovered the existence of a “Life of St Paul” included in many Greek manuscripts of the Acts and Letters, and attributed to a certain Euthalius.  I’ll probably do a post on this once I understand the matter better than I do now.

It is the depths of winter here at the moment.  At some point I hope to get another contract and go back to work.  Meanwhile … I can continue to declutter my shelves!!

The crucifixion graffito of Alkimilla from Puteoli

I was unfamiliar with this item until today, and I doubt that I am alone in this.[1]

In 1959 a group of eight Tabernae were excavated at Puteoli.  Taberna 5 was a guesthouse, as is clear from the graffiti within it.  These mention various names and cities.

On the west wall of taberna 5, a mass of graffiti included the following graffito of a crucified woman.[2]  The cross is 40 cm high, the cross-piece is 26 cm long, and the figure is 35 cm high.  The graffiti belongs to the reign of Trajan or Hadrian.

A name, Ἀλκίμιλα (= Alkimila, Alkimilla), is inscribed over the left-hand side of the image, above the shoulder, suggesting that this is the name of the person in question. It is also possible that this is a form of curse text, rather than a record of an actual event.  The marks across the body are perhaps from flaying or whipping.

The Crucified Alkimilla. Trajanic-Hadrianic era. Puteoli: Via Pergolesi 146, Taberna 5. West Wall. Drawing by Professor Antonio Lombatti.
  1. [1]Details via John Granger Cook, Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World, 2014, p.203-4, which gives a photograph of the graffito and the inscription, and a good bibliography.
  2. [2]Published in M. Guarducci, “Iscrizioni grechi e latine in una taberna a Pozzuoli”, Acta of the Fifth International Congress of Greek and Latin Epigraphy Cambridge, 1967, Oxford (1971), 219-223.

Review: “Before Nicea: The early followers of Prophet Jesus” by Abdul Haq al Ashanti and Abdur Rahman Bowes, 2005

This book was drawn to my attention on Twitter, where it was offered as a scholarly source for some very odd remarks about ante-Nicene Christianity.

The book has the ISBN of 0955109906.  But it circulates most widely in eBook form, e.g.  The eBook that I have marks it as “© SalafiManhaj 2005”, although it does not seem to appear on the site here.  The authors are Abdul Haq al-Ashanti (once known as Paul Addae, a 39-year old SOAS graduate), and Abdur Rahman Bowes (once known as Tim Bowes, I think).  The former is a media representative for the Brixton mosque in London, set up by West African Salafi muslims, as is apparent from this report here.

The introduction tells us that the book is intended for those “who seek to know the original belief of the people that followed the teachings of Jesus”  and make “comparisons between early Christianity and Islam”.  They add that “Before Nicea should not be viewed as ‘Muslim propaganda’ or bias, rather as an honest look at the evidence that qualified scholars have provided.”[1]

The title is misleading, however.  It is not in fact concerned with giving a historical account of the church “before Nicea”.  This becomes apparent very quickly.

Now I’m sure that some readers remember the old trick, much beloved of students in a hurry, of reading a book from the back?  Doing so is revealing, and I will review it, section by section, in just that way.

For pages 98-76 (“Where does this leave us?”) are about the Koran, and how wonderful it is; material that, true or false, can have no possible relevance to such a theme.  On this section, I will only observe that while we have no critical edition of the text of the Koran, assertions about the extreme textual reliability of copies circulating today cannot be based on anything but wishful thinking.

Pages 75-59 (“Later Christianity and its parallels in the wider world”) involves a copy and paste of “pagan Christs” material from such folk as long-dead headbanger T. W. Doane, whose claims that Christianity is copied from Buddhism sit strangely with the supposed purpose of the book.  There are claims about “Isis – Mother of God”; claims that the hellenistic use of “Sons of God” mean that Jesus was not really considered divine; and much else, all of it the fag-end of someone else’s polemic, all of it plainly unchecked, and repeated purely in order to attack Christianity and for no other reason.  This indicates the real purpose of the book; it’s a tract.

Pages 58-55 are devoted to the history of the translation of the English bible, a topic of no conceivable relevance to the subject; but which contains the following gem of logic:

The evangelical Christians would say that the people who persecuted the two characters, Tyndale and Wycliff, were not “real Christians,” yet at the same time the Evangelical Christians denounce and brand as “heretical” the original followers of Jesus who had similar beliefs to Islaam.

I’m sure that we have all seen before an argument which boils down to “some claims that X is a fake are untrue, therefore all claims that X is a fake must be wrong.”  It is not very impressive that the authors fall into such an elementary mistake.

Pages 54-37 (“The Bible: its alteration, compilation and translation”) consist of recycled atheist anti-bible polemic, made up of supposed quotations from “scholars”.

The purpose of this section is to bring together the facts about the Bible, as presented by many Christian scholars.[2]

The scholars are not in fact Christians; claiming that they are is a polemical trick copied from the atheist literature.  But what on earth is the relevance of all this fifth-hand nonsense to the topic of Before Nicea?

One notes that the book was compiled so hastily that the authors did not recognise that they had included a statement from F. G. Kenyon twice.  It is mildly depressing to discover that the statement itself is a complete misrepresentation of Kenyon’s views on whether the text is reliable; for he, contrary to what the authors would like the reader to learn, that the bible text is indeed reliable, on the very next page of his work.[3]

Pages 36-31 consist of attacks on the Trinity.  This might have been relevant.  But in fact the authors are only concerned to show that the early Christians did not hold Trinitarian views.  Unfortunately they are not very familiar with the history of doctrine, and they blunder badly.

As we all know, the term itself is Latin, and was applied by Tertullian to his summary of the biblical teaching in Adversus Praxean., ca. 215 AD.  But the authors know nothing of this, and commence their comments with “The New Catholic Encyclopedia, officially approved by the Catholic Church, explains that the concept of the Trinity was introduced into Christianity in the fourth century”.  The quotes that follow really suggest that the authors thought that the trinity is post-Nicene, and did not realise that details, such as the precise position of the Holy Spirit, or whether the Son was of the same substance or like substance, are not of themselves the doctrine of the Trinity.  The encyclopedias that they read, and mined for quotes, consequently misled them.

Pages 30-28 as “Is Jesus God”?  The second century fathers, to a man, say that he is.  The heretics of the period agree, apart from the few Jewish heretics; instead asking whether Jesus was really human or a phantasm.  But none of this, about the church before Nicea, merits discussion; because the authors knew nothing about it.  Instead we get a couple of pages of assertions.  None of these merit much discussion.

Pages 27-19 are titled “early Christianity”.  This is what the book is supposed to be about; and it is disappointing that it consists of a mere 8 pages.

Unfortunately the section is consists really of an assertion that the early Christians believed only in the Father.  But this is not so.  I have a few quotes on the incarnation here, which by themselves would indicate otherwise.

A quotation from the Koran, from the Shepherd of Hermas, a passage from the Nicene Creed (?!), and a couple of very dubious quotes from 19th century scholars who certainly did not believe the views the authors attribute to them take up two of the 8 pages. We then get 4 pages of vague claims about the Ebionites and related heresies.  Some of these claims are strange; if we consult Epiphanius Panarion, we quickly find that Basilides believed in many gods, one of whom was the Hebrew god; and Jesus was not a man but a phantasm[4]  But certainly some heretics mixed Jewish-type views into their collection of strangenesses.  The oddities of these groups, their angelologies and so forth, are not mentioned by the authors, which misleads the reader into supposing that these people were proto-muslims.  The section ends with the following:

Hans Küng et al. note that “the traditional and historical parallels between early Judaic-Christianity and Islam are inescapable.”[5]

The parallels seem remarkably escapable to most of us.

Pages 18-12 – the first pages after the introduction – are headed “The crucifixion”; but in reality the purpose of this section is to establish that those whom the early church called heretics were the real Christians, and the real Christians simply invented the teachings which they attributed to Christ and his apostles.  In fact even the introduction, the authors make the curious demand that Christians should not claim to decide who share their views and who do not, but instead should let the authors decide (!).

The authors do not conceal their reasoning.  The Koran says that Jesus was not crucified; the apostles and those they appointed say that he was; those who the apostles rejected and who rejected the teaching of the apostles said that Jesus was not crucified, and indeed adapted and changed the apostolic teaching freely and in any old manner.  So … clearly the latter were the real followers of Jesus.

As an analysis of the historical record this is wretched stuff.  We don’t try to discover whether or not the disciples of (e.g.) Valentinus kept to his teaching, or invented their own, on ideological grounds.  We look at the data.  Those who were concerned, then as now, to preserve the teaching of Christ, nothing added, nothing taken away, are clearly visible to us.  Those who preferred to make stuff up, in the manner of the old philosophical schools or haereses, are also visible to us, not least because they kept right on changing their teachings.  Valentinus’ disciples were not faithful to the teaching of their master.  Tertullian in De praescriptione haereticorum 7, and 43, lists who they borrowed their teachings from, and how they run their cults.  Only groups that are interested in preservation are likely to preserve.

The authors list a number of heretical groups that evaded the idea that Jesus was crucified.  They don’t ask why these groups might do so, assuming that this was a tradition handed down to them, even though a list of the teachings of these groups shows that they did not rely on any handed down tradition.  But in fact we learn that the crucifixion of Jesus was shameful in the Roman world, and a cause of embarrassment to Christians.  Tertullian makes much of this point in De carne Christi 5, arguing that Jesus must have been crucified and risen, precisely because nobody would go out and invent such a daft and embarrassing story.

But the authors are not interested in demonstrating their claim.  Instead they just assert:

All of these notions of the crucifixion differ from the ‘orthodox’ Christian understanding, illustrating that there were indeed varied beliefs amongst the early followers of Jesus. These would later be deemed as ‘heretics,’ by ‘orthodox’ Christians with beliefs much further away from the teachings, belief and practice of Jesus…

But we have only the authors’ assertion that these people were followers of Jesus.  Why should we accept it?  The New Testament itself talks of “false teachers”, of those who try to “deceive” with adulterated teaching.  It’s a very common idea in every piece of early Christian writing.  Likewise we have in Irenaeus a quotation from no less than the apostle John.  On going to the baths one day, and learning that their supposed hero Cerinthus was there, the apostle responded:

Let’s get out of here.  Cerinthus is inside, and he’s so dishonest that if he leans against a wall, the whole place may collapse.[6]

The reader asks why he should listen to these heretics; but no answer is given.

The authors do seem to be aware that those whom they wish to call the “original Christians” are in fact a disreputable group, whose teachings won’t bear much examination.  They would have fared better had they tabulated the teachings of each group, to the extent that they are known, for it would have explained clearly that they were in fact a mish-mash of stuff borrowed from anywhere as convenient.

These 8 pages show the weakness of the authors.  They are not really concerned to investigate.  Instead they have produced a set of proof texts, mainly from modern authors, to prove their thesis that Jesus was not crucified.  Everything revolves around that need.

And … that’s the book.  None of it is about the early church.  None of it is about “Before Nicea”.  It’s an islamic religious tract.  It’s not a study, nor a review of what scholars say, nor an attempt to describe what happened.

It is rather a collection of excuses to ignore what the Christians say about themselves in order to confirm what the Koran says about Christians, padded out with anti-Christian polemic copied from atheists, and which eventually forgets altogether what it was supposed to be about, in order to settle down to debunking Christianity and promoting Islam.

Of course such a tract has a perfect right to exist.  None of us can complain that a book is not what it does not set out to be.  But since it is being touted as scholarship, then let’s identify that it is not.

  1. [1]All these quotes on p.4.
  2. [2]P.38.
  3. [3]Online here.
  4. [4]Panarion 24.
  5. [5]Reference given is Hans Küng (ed.), Christianity and the World Religions – Paths of Dialogue with Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism (1986), p.24.  But I have not been able to check this.
  6. [6]My paraphrase of the rather more sober text in Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, book 3, 3:4. Here. “There are also those who heard from him [Polycarp] that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.” And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, “Dost thou know me? “”I do know thee, the first-born of Satan.” Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.””  Polycarp knew John personally; Irenaeus knew Polycarp.

An aerial shot of the base of the Colossus in 1918

Roma Ieri Oggi has posted a set of aerial photographs of Rome, made in 1918.  They are here.  And they are quite marvellous, and high resolution.

Of special interest to us is one that looks at the Colosseum area:

Note the area where today runs the Via del foro imperiali – mainly farmland on the Velian hill.  But also note the base of the Colossus of Nero!

Here’s a zoom:

And I’ve highlighted also what we can see of the tip of the Meta Sudans.


I have no idea where the site owner gets his stuff.  But it’s stuff that we all want to see!

The manuscripts of Manuel Paleologus, “Dialogues with a Muslim”

Towards the end, the Byzantine state become nothing more than a city-state.  The emperor, John VI Paleologus, was forced to become the feudal vassal of his enemy, the Ottoman sultan Murad.  His son, Manuel Palelogus, in 1391-2, was actually obliged to go on campaign with Murad’s son Bayezid, and endure the contemptuous treatment of the latter.  Quartered during one of the winters with a learned Persian, he composed a series of dialogues about Christianity, one of which was quoted by the former Pope Benedict not that long ago.

The work, Dialogues with a Muslim is preserved in four manuscripts.[1]

AAmbrosianus graecus L 74 sup.  15th century.  It is preserved at the Ambrosian library in Milan, is 25.5 x 18 cms, and contains iii + 248 leaves.  It came to the library by purchase, by Cardinal Frederick Borromeo, the prefect of the library, in 1606 as part of the 38 manuscripts in the Sophianos collection in Chios.  Michel Sophianos (d.1565) was a 16th century humanist book collector, whose family was originally from Constantinople, and had moved to Chios, but who lived in Italy.  Whether the manuscript came from Constantinople originally is unknown.

PParisinus graecus 1253, 16th century. Now at the French National Library in Paris.  514 leaves.  The binding bears the arms of Henri IV.  Written in a large book hand, with quite few abbreviations; possibly copied by an Italian hand.

CCoislin 130. 16th century.  Also at the French National Library.  This is made up of 216 medium-sized leaves.  It was copied by James Diassorinos, a copyist born in Rhodes but whose father went to live in Chios around 1522.  In June 1543, James Diassorinos was living in Venice, penniless, and close to destitute.  Before going to Venice, he had spent his time copying manuscripts.  He took up the same trade at Venice, copying 6 large manuscripts between 1544 and 1555, 4 of them for the future Philip II of Spain.  He then took up the trade of an adventurer, adopting imaginary titles and attempting to organise a “reconquest” of parts of the Ottoman realm for his own advantage.  It is possible that this manuscript was copied at Chios in 1541.

S.  Parisinus suppl. gr. 169. 18th century.  Also preserved at the French National Library is this very late copy.  It is made up of 693 small leaves.  It’s a copy of C, collated against P.  The copyist was Claude Capperonier (1716-1775) who had difficulties with the abbreviations in his model.

The manuscripts are all basically the same, with few variants, all caused by copyist distraction, but A is the best.

It’s interesting to see what the manuscript tradition is, even for so late a text as this.

  1. [1]These notes are translated and abbreviated from the Sources Chrétiennes edition and translation of the 7th Dialogue.

How I do the footnotes on my blog; and other bits of blog configuration

This blog runs on WordPress.  I host a copy of the software in a directory on my rented webspace (rented from the ever-reliable  A commenter asked:

Do you use a plug-in for footnotes? If so, could you please identify the plug-in, and comment on its usefulness?

I do indeed use a plug-in. In fact, to get what I want, I find that I have to use two plugins.

The footnote that I use is Footnotes for WordPress, by Charles Johnson.  To insert a footnote, when editing, all you do is this:

This is my blog text[1].

It is simple, and works well.  But … by default, the footnotes appear in a hideous box at the end, surrounded by NOTENOTENOTE.  Why the author thought this was a good idea I cannot imagine.  But in his “Other notes” page, he tells us how to change this: by adding some CSS into the theme.  Mine looks currently like this:

/** Footnotes changed to simple list */
ol.footnotes li {
    background: transparent !important;
    padding: 5px !important;
    border: none !important;
    margin: 0.5em 2em !important;

How do I add this?  Well, I have a second plugin, Simple custom CSS.  You install this, hit “Add CSS”, and you can put in what you want.  Then hit the “Update custom css” button.

In fact I got this originally because I wanted to reduce the font size for the blog.  The default themes these days have enormous fonts for the main text.  So I also have in there the following CSS:

body {
	font-family: Verdana;
	font-size: 12px;
blockquote {
 font-size: 12px !important;
 font-style: normal !important;
 color: black !important;
 font-family: Verdana !important;
 padding: 0.25em 40px;

The second section changes stuff about quoted text.  I’m not sure if I need this any more, but a previous theme really did need changes!

What else do I use?  Akismet for spam, obviously; Jetpack for statistics, and to share my posts to twitter.  There’s a contact form, “Contact Form 7”, and a couple of others which are just intended to speed things up.

I back up my blog regularly.  I connect to the site with FTP and download the changed image files (etc) from the wp-uploads directory.  I also use the Tools | Export facility to get the blog text.  The master copy resides on my local hard disk.

All this is because I remember days in which putting stuff on the server was not a good way to guarantee its availability.  Servers crash.  Which may seem quaint, in these days when “cloud storage” is trumpeted.

But “the cloud” is just a server.  And, as far as I know, servers still crash.

Keep your files locally!

  1. [1]My footnote

New dustjackets for old books!

Via the H.V.Morton blog, named after the South African travel writer, I learn of a novel thing.

How many of us have old hardbacks, bought second-hand, where the dust jackets have long since gone?  The colourful dust jackets of H.V. Morton’s travel books on my shelves are long gone, leaving only a bible-black cloth cover, which is, to say the least, uninviting.

But what if you could buy a new dust-jacket?  A reproduction of the original, with the colours restored?

Well, an enterprising gentleman has set up a website called Reprojackets to do just that.   Here is an example of his work, the original and his colour corrected version:

H.V.Morton, “Middle East” – original dust-jacket faded by time, and then modern colour corrected reproduction.

The range is, perhaps inevitably, a limited one.  The price is high, but then how many will he sell?

A remarkable spot of private enterprise, which can only benefit us all.

A collection of colophons from Coptic manuscripts, by Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock has kindly sent in a text and translation of some colophons – final material – from Coptic manuscripts.  It’s here:

As ever, many thanks to Dr. A.  It is really useful to have this material online and in English!

How I met I.E.S. Edwards

A good long time ago, before I ever heard of the internet, I was a member of the Egypt Exploration Society (EES).  This society was founded in Victorian times in order to raise funds for archaeology in Egypt, and to promote interest in the country.

Every year I used to receive a thick, uninviting-looking copy of The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, bound in some dull coarse paper wrapper, and containing a variety of technical articles of no real interest to the ordinary person.  It was my first encounter with an academic journal; and although I dutifully worked through it, I learned nothing.  Someone eventually realised the madness of this proceeding; for the society in my later years issued instead a glossy magazine full of accessible articles.  My copies of the JEA have long since gone to the landfill.

The EES also ran lectures.  I remember going to one at the Egyptian Embassy, which was held in a room that stank of unwashed curtains – a familiar smell to anyone who has visited Egypt! – and being looked down on by some of the smartly dressed embassy staff, for I was just a young man and dressed informally, and they evidently thought me of no importance.  Of course they were right, and I was too humble to take offence, but it seemed a curious way to promote the country to people who might grow up to be important.  I asked them what to read for news about Egypt; and they mentioned al-Ahram.  In those days, of course, there was no way to access that paper, and I never saw a copy until the web came along.

Another lecture was advertised “for the public”, to be given one Saturday at a university building by no less a person than I. E. S. Edwards, author of The Pyramids of Egypt, a widely read popular volume.  In fact I saw it a few moments ago, in the Penguin paperback, on my shelf, which sparked these old memories.

All the EES lectures that I ever attended were in London.  So that Saturday I took the train down and made my way across the city, and sat in a lecture theatre just like those from college.

The lecture itself was disappointing.  There were lots of references to other lectures in a series, which of course I had not heard.  And, although quite well informed on Egyptology, for a layman, it was pretty dense and dry.  I reached the end, somewhat dissatisfied.

But I did have a question about pyramids.  I knew that there were structures around the step-pyramid at Saqqara – the “south tomb” for instance – of which I knew nothing.  Perhaps Dr Edwards could point me in the right direction so that I could read more?

So I went down to the front at the end, and waited to talk to him.  There was a gang of young folk already talking to him; and of course I didn’t grudge them this.  So I waited … and waited … and waited.  Much of the talk seemed inconsequential, which was odd at a public lecture.  Finally one girl yawned and said to Dr E., “See you next Tuesday” and off they went.  Plainly these were his students!  I wondered at the time whether they could not have found some other opportunity to talk to their supervisor, than at a lecture open to the public.

At last I got my chance. But I was disappointed to find that Edwards simply wanted to get out of there.  My words were brushed aside brusquely. I was made to feel a nuisance.  Persisting, my enquiry was met with “Perhaps in Lower?” which meant nothing to me (I realised later that it was a reference to J.-P. Lauer, the French excavator – nothing that a member of the public could do anything with).  And off he went, leaving a sour impression behind.

I was a member of the public, and of the EES, in whose name this lecture had been given.  I had travelled a considerable distance at some expense to do so.  And … I felt rather cheated.  Of course I didn’t complain to the EES – I was far too humble to do what I would do today.

In retrospect, it seems clear what had happened.  Edwards had long since ceased to deliver that “public lecture”.  Instead he had used the time as part of his ordinary course of lectures to his students.  Nobody from the public was expected or wanted, and nothing was done for them.

Did the EES pay him an honorarium to deliver that lecture?  I would be surprised if it was not so. For I can think of no reason why a man would choose to mislabel a lecture otherwise.  No doubt he had come to consider it a perk, requiring no special work on his part.

It’s a shame.  He’s dead now, and he certainly did some good in his time.  All the same, I do wish that he had found five minutes for that harmless youth, all those years ago.  I think I will put his book where I don’t see it so easily.  It’s a good book.  But looking at it, I find the memory leaves a funny taste behind.

We must never be rude to the youthful amateur enquirer.  You never know who they will grow up to be.  They will, without doubt, be those who write our obituaries.

Two questions: can translations be biased? and are ancient texts reliable?

I’ve had some correspondence in the last few days, posing a couple of interesting questions which are actually quite hard to answer definitively.  But I thought that I would mention both, and give some thoughts about them.

The first asked about bias in translations of ancient texts.  It’s an interesting question.  Can you actually do an accurate translation, and still introduce bias?  Or does bias necessarily involve deliberate mistranslation?  Of course I have never worried in the slightest about this!  I’m lucky if I can get someone to make a translation.  And if I am translating, I am not thinking about how to smuggle my own views into the text – I want to know what it has to say!

It is certainly possible to create “translations” where the words have been changed; “anthropos” rendered as “human” rather than “man” comes rather readily to mind, as introduced into the text of the bible by modern scholars of a certain political persuasion.  It is quite possible that we live in an era of mass mistranslation, for these political reasons.  There is definitely an agenda at work here; but this is mistranslation, or even corruption; the introduction of a gloss into the text, rather than translation.

The bible has always been a controversial text.  Perhaps a study of the versiones – translations into the vernacular – of classical and biblical and patristic texts would reveal how this works.

But on the whole I would tend to dismiss the idea of mistranslation, rather than corruption.  A word appears in a phrase, which appears in a sentence, which is part of the flow of ideas.  It is really quite hard to deviate without deliberately rewriting the text.  People intent on translating are not likely to accidentally introduce bias.

The second question was equally interesting.  The writer asked, “Are ancient texts reliable?”  He attached a quotation naming Jewish forgeries of texts in the Hellenistic period, for controversial purposes against Greeks.

This is, if anything, a larger subject.  Are any texts reliable?  Is my daily newspaper reliable?  Few of us would commit unreservedly to the proposition that any literature made by men is absolutely reliable.  Even those attempting to be reliable will not escape the unconscious preconceptions of their authors; and then we have authors who write with no other purpose than to promote their opinions, and the facts go hang.  Then there are forgeries, works written under a false name for the purpose of money or advantage.  For ancient texts the question of accurate transmission arises.

Yet, with all this, I would answer this question thus: Yes, ancient texts are reliable.  They are mostly transmitted OK, or at least we have a good idea of to what extent typos may be expected.  They represent the opinions of their authors.  The forgeries we have largely identified, since they were never forged to fool us, but rather their contemporaries.  The authors themselves may not be reliable – O indeed!  this must be determined in the usual way – but the texts as such are fine.

Perhaps I may come back to one or both of these questions at some other point.