Re: Revelation and Fourth Gospel

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Sun Jun 22 1997 - 19:34:36 EDT

At 05:09 PM 6/22/97, Mark O'Brien wrote:
>>Before I believe *any* analysis that says whether the same author wrote two
>>works, I would like to see a method developed with this degree of rigor,
>>then tested on some form of literature we are familiar with. These methods
>>are available to us, so why not use them?
>Of course, and I'm sure you are more than well aware of this, the problem
>with the NT writers is that the sample set we have to work with is rather
>small, which generally makes any sort of stylistic analysis somewhat

This is true, but there are two things that we *can* do.

1. We can *say* that this kind of stylistic analysis is uncertain. If there
isn't enough evidence to make a convincing scientific case that two books
were not written by the same author, then we can limit the certainty with
which we make such statements. When scholars have more certainty about the
who wrote Greek texts than I might have about similar English texts, I don't
really believe them that much.

2. We can compare distribution patterns of linguistic features with similar
distributions in well-known samples. For instance, if we notice that the
vocabulary of two books differs in certain ways, we can see if the same
kinds of patterns typically occur in modern writings in various languages.

If you compare my articles on object oriented databases with the sharings I
give at Durham Correctional Facility, you will find entirely different
vocabulary, very different sentence length and sentence structure, different
subjects and interests, etc. Compare either to the letters I write to my
wife, the sermon I gave this morning at Durham Mennonite, the poems I have
written, or this email, and you will find significant differences in many
linguistic features, yet I am the same author.

So we have to start out with a quantifiable, disprovable theory about what
things remain constant and what things change when an author writes on
different occasions, at different periods of life, and to different
audiences, test this theory with texts by known authors, then apply it to
texts whose authorship is not known. I do not know if anybody, say a
linguist, has done a good job of this for written materials, since I was
involved with voice prints, and stylistic variation in sentence structure
was rather secondary in our work, but this is certainly possible. Of course,
these tests would have to be made cross-linguistically, applied to authors
in various languages, before they could be applied to Greek. If someone
*has* done such work, I would love to hear about it!

But if you can't demonstrate the ability to distinguish whether two works
are written by the same author, you shouldn't make dogmatic assertions on
the question. (This is a generic "you", not aimed at any individual.)


Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703

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